At the beginning of the 21st Century monsters still roam the remote, and sometimes not so remote, corners of our planet. It is our job to search for them. The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is - we believe - the largest professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to cryptozoology - the study of unknown animals. Since 1992 the CFZ has carried out an unparalleled programme of research and investigation all over the world. Since 2009 we have been running the increasingly popular CFZ Blog Network, and although there has been an American branch of the CFZ for over ten years now, it is only now that it has a dedicated blog.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

KENTUCKY FRIED HYENAS Zachary Mann on the trail

If you just put key words into your search engine like, “Hyenas in America” you will get some interesting results. The first are always the reports of the famous Western Cryptid, the Shunka Warakin. It means “to carry off dogs” in the Ioway Indian language. It mainly refers to the stuffed specimen shot in 1886 by Israel Ammon Hutchins in what is now Sun Ranch, Montana. Famous for being photographed then lost for decades, it was only recently rediscovered.

Yet surprisingly a large amount of results for “Hyenas in America” are people submitting questions like “Are hyenas found in America?” or “Where do Hyenas in America live?” to many of those question help sites like  Yahoo Answers. The response to all these questions are the same, officially no species of hyena lives in America. So why are so many people asking about them? It is because the people who submit these questions do so after seeing for themselves or having a family member see unusual animals that bare a more than passing resemblance to a hyena.

Since the shooting of the famous Shunka Warakin specimen of 1886 reports of strange Hyena like creatures keep coming in from Maine and British Columbia, yet interestingly enough I found a very large volume of Hyena-like creature sightings for decades all across the South. Reports from Louisiana, South Carolina, Texas and a very long history in Arkansas all describe large creatures that have sloping backs, long muzzles, large teeth, and are often spotted But one state in particular kept coming up over and over again many in very recent years, Kentucky.
                                   Spotted or Laughing Hyena

In 2004 near Lexington, Kentucky, a couple saw a strange creature on the side of the road as they drove by. It was described having bluish-grey fur with dark “splotches”, a long muzzle, large teeth, a sloping back and was about 3 feet tall. They had no idea what kind of creature they were looking at, so they searched the Internet and found one that matched closely, the hyena. Over the next five years similar looking creatures are seen across Kentucky’s roadways. 

Yet the most curious question I found about hyenas in America was someone asking if the Kentucky Department of Fish and Game was intentionally releasing hyenas in order to control the rising elk population. Can you imagine a government agency releasing exotic animals that have the potential to be dangerous to people in order to reduce a pest animal’s population? We do know that various governments have been guilty of releasing foreign creatures into an ecosystem that is no use to them. The cane toads in Australia is a good example. Yet I doubt that hyenas would be on anybody’s list for creatures to release in order to reduce another animal’s population. But again why would someone ask that?

Well because several people from around Lost Mountain (a more perfect name couldn’t be faked) had seen some rather unusual creatures. One witness said she saw a creature that had a large hump on its back and was described as “an honest to God hyena” running with a pack of coyotes. Another person who grew up around Lost Mountain recalled often hearing sounds very reminiscent of a women laughing coming from the mountain on numerous occasions for years.

So what could people be seeing? The only species of hyena ever found in North America was Chamaporthetes, commonly known as the running hyena. Officially it went extinct about 780,000 years ago. Could a small population have survived up until now? Maybe, but is there a simpler explanation?
The most likely explanation is that people often import exotic animals to keep as either pets or in private zoos. Some of these animals could have been intentionally released when they got too big for the owners to handle. Escapees  occur too. One recent example was in 2006 a striped hyena got out of its owner’s yard in South Carolina.

Another thing to consider is that while it is very unlikely that the Kentucky Wildlife Department is intentionally releasing hyenas into the wild, they are intentionally releasing another large predator into the wilds of Kentucky, the wolf. Wolves were once native to Kentucky, but were wiped out due to persecution from farmers. Over the past several years, though, Wildlife officials have been trying to right this wrong. It could be that since a lot of people have grown up living in Kentucky without having wolves in their back yard, and now all of a sudden here they are, it could cause some mistaken identity.

Since the wolf’s reintroduction into Kentucky starting in the mid-90’s reports of the ‘hyena-like’ creatures have been on the rise. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.  


  1. spotted hyena sighted on 1-3-15 in northeast Arkansas

  2. Here's where the usfws was talking about bringing them here in 2000

  3. 10-6-2016
    Sighted a spotted hyena 2 miles North and 3/4 mile West on public road....I was heading to town, which is only 4 miles from my house, to pick up my 14 year old daughter. There was a vehicle in front of me and one about 1/8 of a mile behind me.
    I was just about 1 1/4 mile from the house when a hyena DID come out of the bushes and got onto the roadway, by that time I had slowed down to about 15 mph for some reason, as I watched it run out about 10 feet in front of me, I slowed down even further to watch it turn from sideways to running away from with a much shorter tail tucked between its legs and running with its very short back legs and entire body resembling identical to a hyena, hunched back weird gait that they have.
    I grew up watching The National Geographic Channel and have actually seen hyenas at the zoo and I know with 100 % certainty and will lay my hand on the Bible that it was a hyena. All the neighbors down the road where it happens do not have any dogs etc that look like this and I sit outside a lot at night and I have heard a pack that sounded so weird and getting closer to the house and I kept telling my family and friends that it sounded just like hyenas laughing and till tonight I just figured I was hearing things but for the last few weeks I've been hearing these sounds from 3 sides of our rent house which is on tip of a huge hill where I can actually see 3 towns from the front yard and the mountains 45 Mikes away. All the land on 3 sides are all mostly wooded and the landlord's cow's were going nuts the other night just outside the house and I knew automatically something was wrong, since I grew up on a farm and raised cattle myself around coyotes I know what to expect.
    What in seen tonight, approximately 4 hours ago, was something that literally scared me to the point of instant fear because I knew what it was and I got all the way into the oncoming lane going up the hill watching it run right along where the grass meets the road...if something wouldn't have had me slow down I never would have seen it.
    I have already told my neighbor, whose house is where it came through their yard, about it and they are farmers and have heard the same sounds and was so thankful for letting them know because their hunting dogs have been going crazy at night.
    After 40 years of watching hyenas on tv and also seeing them in person, I know what I seen was a hyena.
    Rush Springs, Oklahoma