The striped hyaena has a very large range extending through the Middle East, Caucus region, Central Asia, and the Indian sub-continent, with its southern and western limits in Africa. Absent from the Central Sahara, the distribution in Africa extends eastward from Senegal along the extent of the North African coast into Egypt and into the Central African states of Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon. From Egypt the distribution extends south into central Tanzania.The current distribution is patchy and West African, Middle Eastern, Caucus, and Central Asian populations are likely composed of isolated small populations.
Although historically present, there are no reliable recent records of occurrence in Tunisia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Somalia. The current distribution was reviewed extensively by Hofer and Mills (1998). Although reviewed in multiple publications, studies of the species in Africa are limited to Serengeti (Kruuk 1976), Laikipia District in central Kenya (Wagner 2007;; Wagner et al. 2007), and northern Kenya (Leakey 1999). Therefore, the material presented here relies heavily on those sources.
In most of its range the striped hyaena occurs in open habitat or light thorn bush country. In North Africa it prefers open woodlands and bushy and mountainous regions. Both the centre of the Arabian desert and the Sahara are avoided (Rieger 1979a). In central Asia it also avoids high altitudes and dense thickets and forests (Heptner and Sludskij 1980). The maximum altitudes recorded are 2,250m in Iran, 2,500m in India (sources in Rieger 1979a) and 3,300m in Pakistan (Roberts 1977). In the Caucasus region, Turkmenistan, Tadzhikistan, and Uzbekistan, prime habitats include savannah and semi-desert regions up to an altitude of 2,100m, mountain areas with a strong relief and valleys and slopes (even with little or no vegetation) with plenty of caves or other resting sites and riverine areas. Other preferred habitats are thickets of tamarisks, the periphery of sand deserts, and the special pistachio (Pistacia vera) savannahs characteristic of the Badhyz area of southeast Turkmenistan (Heptner and Sludskij 1980). Because of its limited ability to thermoregulate, the striped hyaena stays south of the January isotherms of 1 °C, and avoids areas with minimum temperatures of less than -15 to -20°C and more than 80-120 days of frost per year (Heptner and Slodskij 1980).
In Israel, it is present even close to dense human settlements. Individuals have been recorded 19km south of Tel Aviv, 5km east of the international airport, and on the Tel Aviv-Haifa highway near Mount Carmel (Mendelssohn 1985, Mendelssohn and Yom-Tov 1988). In India, it used to be common in the open country especially where low hills and ravines were available. (Prater 1948). In west Africa, the striped hyaena occurs in the Sahel and Sudan savannas.