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New hyenas ‘spotted’ at ABQ BioPark Zoo

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What’s all the havoc and ruckus about at the ABQ BioPark Zoo?

Actually, it’s about two new baby spotted hyenas named Havoc and Ruckus – appropriately gender-neutral names because their sexes will remain unknown until genetic testing is performed in the upcoming weeks.

The pair were born on Aug. 8, to first-time parents, 10-year-old mom Smilla, and 15-year-old dad Dubu. They weighed in at 3.5 pounds, and now tip the scale at about 6 pounds each, Erin Flynn, the zoo’s mammal curator said Friday.

Smilla came to the zoo in 2016 as a companion and mate for Dubu, who has lived there since 2004. The pair were recommended to breed as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Spotted Hyena Species Survival Plan.

Havoc and Ruckus “are the first hyenas born at the ABQ BioPark Zoo in 31 years, so we’re really excited,” said Flynn. That brings to four the total number of hyenas in the zoo collection.

Since birth is more risky for first-time mother hyenas due to their unique anatomy, she said, ABQ BioPark staff stayed on-site overnight to monitor her labor. When Smilla didn’t give birth on her own after 11 hours, staff determined that she needed to have a C-section and zoo vets were called in at 2:30 a.m. to perform the surgery.

Havoc and Ruckus, like all hyena cubs, were born covered in woolly black fur, with open eyes, erupted teeth “and pretty much running around from the get-go,” she said.

The two cubs have been kept behind the scenes so zoo staff could monitor their post-birth health and development. On Friday, they were allowed to start exploring their outdoor habitat and were introduced to father Dubu.

Spotted hyenas are the most abundant of three species. They are found in patchy distribution clusters in sub-Saharan Africa. Their population in the wild is estimated to range from 27,000 to 47,000, “so they are doing pretty good and are not currently threatened or endangered, but their numbers are decreasing because of human-wildlife contact,” Flynn said.

Brown hyenas, whose numbers range from 5,000 to 8,000, also roam sub-Saharan Africa, while striped hyenas, whose numbers range from 5,000 to 14,000, meander about an area stretching from northern Africa through the Middle East to India, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which classifies both of these species as “near threatened.”

In the wild, hyenas can live from 20 to 25 years, and in zoos up to 40 years. Mature hyenas range from 100 to 180 pounds, with the female of the species nearly always larger.

Hyenas are often thought to resemble a type of dog, but they are not in the dog, cat or bear families. In fact, said Flynn, “they are their own thing,” a distinct carnivore group called Hyaenidae.

“In the wild they pretty much eat anything they can catch, and they have some of the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom,” with a bite force measured at more than 1,100 pounds per square inch, Flynn said.

In addition to looking and being formidable, “hyenas are also really smart and really social,” she said. They live in clans that can have up to 80 members, and like any clan there is a pecking order. Females are always dominant and at the top of the ladder, followed by the babies, with the males occupying the bottom rungs.

“In those clans, pregnant females go off to give birth on their own, and when the babies are about one month old the females move them to a communal den and the entire clan takes care of them,” including the males – if the females allow it, Flynn said.

Spotted hyenas are also known as “laughing” or “giggling” hyenas because of vocalizations they make when they’re excited.

Visitors to the BioPark Zoo who hear these unique hyena articulations are reminded there’s no need to feel antagonized – they’re not laughing at you; they’re laughing with you.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of one of the baby hyenas.