The spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) also known as laughing hyena, is a carnivorous mammal of the family Hyaenidae, of which it is the largest extant member. Though the species’ prehistoric range included Eurasia extending from Atlantic Europe to China, it now only occurs in all of Africa south of the Sahara save for the Congo Basin. Spotted hyenas live in large matriarchal communities called clans, which can consist of up to 80 individuals.
Though often mislabeled as cowardly scavengers, spotted hyenas derive the majority of their nourishment by hunting medium sized ungulates, and frequently clash with lions over food and territory. They are highly intelligent among the carnivora, with studies indicating that their social intelligence is on par with some primate species.
Spotted hyenas are very vocal animals, and produce a number of different calls. Generally, high pitched calls signify fear or submission, while low pitched calls accompany a high tendency to attack.
The loud “whoop” is a characteristic sound of the African night and is audible for over 5 km (3 miles) or more. It is a rallying cry, which varies in speed and pitch according to the urgency of the situation. Spotted hyenas also whoop to show off as individuals, the rate and style being an indicator of social status. Because of this, spotted hyenas whoop singly rather than in chorus as wolf packs do to display their collective strength. Although males tend to whoop more than females of similar rank, dominant females will engage in the longest bouts of whooping. Giggles and grunt-laughter tend to be emitted in situations of great excitement, and perhaps indicate a conflicting tendency to flee or stay. The giggles, yells and grunts which accompany mass feeding tend to be directed at competing individuals at a carcass, and have the secondary, disadvantageous effect of attracting lions and other spotted hyenas. The pitch of the laugh indicates the hyena’s age, while variations in the frequency of notes used when hyenas make noises convey information about the animal’s social rank. Soft grunts are made by females calling their cubs. When attacked, spotted hyenas will emit loud growls and whimpers.
(Text from Wikipedia, 5 May 2011 2011)