Berkeley is full of surprises. Count me as a relative newcomer to the city (five years), but I had no idea there was a colony of hyenas in the Berkeley hills. They aren’t running wild, of course. They are part of the Berkeley Field Station for the Study of Behavior, Ecology and Reproduction. They’re the result of 20 infants brought here from Kenya in the 1980s by professors Laurence Frank and Steve Glickman.

The Berkeley hyenas are in the news because of fascinating research by Nicolas Mathevon, Aron Koralek, Mary Weldele, Glickman and Frederic Theunissen recently published in BMC Ecology. According to the research, the hyena’s laugh “can encode information about age, individual identity and dominant/subordinate status, providing cues to receivers that could enable assessment of the social position of an emitting individual”.

The researchers have now applied for a National Science Foundation grant to study hyenas in the wild in Africa. The idea is to expose wild hyenas to sounds from the Berkeley group to record reactions, and then do the same with wild hyena sounds from Africa in the Berkeley hyenas.

Photo by Arno & Louise from Flickr

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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  1. Nobody believed me when I came home from a run one day to announce that the University housed a hyenas…I am with Rachel A., the sound of their “laugh” is haunting and I think I upped my pace a bit upon the realization that it wasn’t a turkey but a hyena emitting that peal! I agree that the science is fascinating, I had no idea that anyone, activists or otherwise, would ever consider “freeing” them into a local park rife with families on dog-walks. Yikes.

  2. Let’s hope animal activists don’t try again to release these animals into the wilds of Tilden. Please, no one identify the location of the compound.

    Laurence Frank has studied the hormone levels of these animals for years in Africa as part of his research into why the females are dominant and why they present with enlarged clitorises that look like penises.

    They’re fascinating creatures.

  3. I remember the first time I heard the hyenas while running on the fire trail high above the Lawrence Hall of Science. It was, to say the least, an adrenalin-inducing sound. Thanks for more information about them.