Laughing All The Way Home

Laughing All The Way Home

Spotted hyena finds his ‘forever’ at Turpentine Creek

Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge near Eureka Springs has 85 lions and tigers and bears — along with bobcats, cougars, leopards and African servals — that call its 450 acres home. But this winter, president and founder Tanya Smith got a call she probably never expected. A spotted hyena in southern Arkansas needed to be rescued.

Smith hesitated only long enough to do some research, speak to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission and confer with animal curator Emily McCormack and veterinarian Dr. Kellyn Sweeley. Satisfied “that our team could provide [him] quality lifetime care,” TCWR staff set out on a 600-mile round-trip journey to bring Rambo home.

Smith says Rambo has claimed this tree as “his and his alone.” (Courtesy Photo/TCWR)

Also called “laughing hyenas,” the spotted hyena is classed as the sole extant member of the genus Crocuta, native to sub-Saharan Africa. Adults can be more than 5 feet long, stand 3 feet at the shoulders and weigh up to 150 pounds. They are meat eaters like the big cats at Turpentine Creek and ordinarily live in clans — although Rambo had only ever had a companion dog when he was younger.

“The situation that brought Rambo to the refuge was very sad,” Smith explains. “We arrived two weeks after the owner was killed in a tragic car accident. The family had just returned from the memorial for their loved one. We met the widow, her mother and her two children, all of whom were very sweet, distraught and thankful. The boy said that he never remembered a time that Rambo wasn’t in his life. The pen was very large; it had a small lockup — very important — a long tunnel and a pool at a beautiful southern Arkansas home.”

It’s been an adjustment for a hyena that was a family pet.

“Upon arrival, Rambo was reluctant to leave his crate, but once he was released into his all-natural grass habitat at Rescue Ridge, he loved it,” says TCWR President Tanya Smith. (Courtesy Photo/TCWR)

“Rambo also lost the only family he had ever known,” Smith says. “They had bought him as a cub, and he is now 10 years old. We are doing great, [and] he is adjusting to his new life at the sanctuary just as all the other animals do.”

Smith says “upon arrival, Rambo was reluctant to leave his crate, but once he was released into his all-natural grass habitat at Rescue Ridge, he loved it.” Of course, he — like all the other animals at Turpentine Creek — gets a variety of enrichment offerings, from scattered fresh meat to let him enjoy scavenging to toys such as logs, brush, boomer balls and big bones. Smith says Rambo, who as a hyena has a stronger bite than any of the big cats, gets mostly natural treats “since he eats everything.”

What he doesn’t get is the hands-on human interaction he might have received from his previous family. Asked if that’s difficult in a case like this, Smith says no.

“Our goal is to provide lifetime sanctuary to the animals in our charge,” she says. “To do this, we have to respect the animals for what they are, provide special attention but not hands on while keeping our team or biologist and zoologist safe — which ultimately keeps the animals safe because if someone gets hurt while caring for the animals it could cost that animal its life.”

So far, Rambo, his caregivers and his neighbors seem to get along just fine.

“It doesn’t seem to faze the tiger living next door to him,” Smith says. “They will sit and look at each other, but that is about it.”

Oddly, though they look like dogs, spotted hyenas are more like cats.

“One of the interesting things I have noticed is that Rambo likes to start the lions caroling. He makes this loud whooping noise which seems like a sound off for the lions to start roaring.”

Rambo, a spotted hyena that had lived a good life as a pet for 10 years, came to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge near Eureka Springs when his owner was killed in a car wreck. He’s enjoying lots of toys and snacks and likes to encourage the lions to “carol.” (Courtesy Photo/TCWR


Turpentine Creek

Wildlife Refuge

Turpentine Creek is open for tours 9 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, but tickets are limited by covid-19 restrictions. Buy tickets online at or donate at TCWR is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and all donations are tax deductible.

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Categories: Family Friendly