Hyenas are moderately large terrestrial carnivores native to Africa, Arabia, Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Although hyenas bear some physical resemblance to canids, they make up a separate biological family that is most closely related to the family of mongooses. With the exception of the insectivorous Aardwolf, hyenas have among the strongest jaws in the animal kingdom and an adult of the species has only the big cats (e.g. lions or leopards) to fear.

All species have a distinctly bear-like gait due to their front legs being longer than their back legs. The Aardwolf, striped hyena and brown hyena have luxurious, striped pelts and manes lining the top of their necks which erect when frightened. The spotted hyena's fur is considerably shorter and is spotted rather than striped. Unlike other species, its mane is reversed forwards.

Hyenas are highly intelligent animals, and some scientists claim they are of equal intelligence to certain apes. One indication of hyena intelligence is that they will move their kills closer to each other to protect them from scavengers; another indication is their strategic hunting methods.