Hyena society is founded on friendship

Amiyaal Ilany

Hyena society is founded on friendship

Hyenas long ago mastered one of the keys to Facebook success: becoming the friend of a friend. The most common large carnivore in Africa, spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta), are known for their socially sophisticated behaviors. They live in large, stable clans (as pictured above), which can include as many as 100 individuals. They can tell clan members apart, discriminating among their maternal and paternal kin. They’re also choosy about their pals and form tight bonds only with specific members—the friends of their friends, researchers report in the current issue of Ecology Letters. And it’s this ability to form lasting friendships—or “cohesive clusters,” as the scientists describe a triad of friends—that is most important in maintaining the animals’ social structure. To reach this conclusion, the scientists analyzed more than 50,000 observations of social interactions among spotted hyenas in Kenya’s Maasai Mara National Reserve over 20 years. They found that individual traits, including the hyena’s sex and social rank, as well as environmental factors such as the amount of rainfall and prey abundance, all play a role in the animals’ social dynamics. But the most consistently influential factor was the ability of individual hyenas to form and maintain those tight friendships. The study used a new modeling method, which the researchers say can help other scientists better understand the sociality of other species. And that includes the human animal, who, the scientists note, are also prone to “cohesive clusters,” whether living as hunter-gatherers or as users of social media.