To investigate how anthropogenic activity might affect large carnivores, we studied the behaviour of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) during two time periods. From 1996 to 1998, we documented the ecological correlates of space utilization patterns exhibited by adult female hyenas defending a territory at the edge of a wildlife reserve in Kenya. Hyenas preferred areas near dense vegetation but appeared to avoid areas containing the greatest abundance of prey, perhaps because these were also the areas of most intensive livestock grazing. We then compared hyena behaviour observed in 1996–98 with that observed several years earlier and found many differences. Female hyenas in 1996–98 were found farther from dens, but closer to dense vegetation and to the edges of their territory, than in 1988–90. Recent females also had larger home ranges, travelled farther between consecutive sightings, and were more nocturnal than in 1988–90. Finally, hyenas occurred in smaller groups in 1996–98 than in 1988–90. We also found several changes in hyena demography between periods. We next attempted to explain differences observed between time periods by testing predictions of hypotheses invoking prey abundance, climate, interactions with lions, tourism and livestock grazing. Our data were consistent with the hypothesis that increased reliance on the reserve for livestock grazing was responsible for observed changes. That behavioural changes were not associated with decreased hyena population density suggests the behavioural plasticity typical of this species may protect it from extinction.