By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 14 May 2012
When in Africa a couple of years ago, I looked high and low for these gorgeous animals. I mean EVERYwhere. When we finally caught up with a clan (clue), another tourist in our jeep attempted to ruin the moment by harping on about how disgusting they were. Sadly, for an unfathomable reason, this animal does appear to generally induce an upturned nose amongst the general public. Which is so UNFAIR!! This animal is amazing and I am going to set the record straight on why. This week’s specimen of the week is…
**!!!THE SPOTTED HYENA!!!**
1) Hyenas are highly misunderstood, intelligent and beautiful animals. Yes… they are. Although dog-like in appearance, they are more closely related to cats, come on- we all love cats. Ok so the high shoulders, sloping down to the bum that is much lower, does give the hyena a slightly ‘interesting’ appearance, but really it just gives them character.
2) The spotted hyena is actually the second largest carnivore in the whole of Africa, only beaten to the gold medal by the lion. They are extremely powerful animals that possess one of the strongest bite forces of ALL mammal species. So they should at least get the respect, if not the love, right?
3) Ok they are scavengers, but firstly- so?! I’ll have you know that scavenging is actually an extremely energy efficient way of life, thus, in this day and age of climate change and global warming, the hyena should be the template for a model citizen in terms of its eco-friendly ways. Secondly- in reality scavenging is very widespread. EVERYONE does it! Lions, tigers, bears… So why do hyenas get such a bad rep? Never been to a carboot sale? (You really should, they’re great).
4) You’ll like this one. Clans have a strict hierarchy. Once a male has bitten, growled, and clawed his way up through the clan to be the most high ranking male- he is still subordinate to the absolute lowest of the low ranking females. (Snigger.) Female hyenas are way more aggressive than males and can weigh up to 14 % more, to keep them in line.
5) Hyena cubs are born with a full set of gnashers, and their eyes already open. Within minutes of bursting forth into the African sun, hyena cubs fight each other for milk and it is here that the hierarchy begins to be established for later life. No pressure then.
On display we have two spotted hyena skulls, one striped hyena, and a cousin of the three hyena species- the aardwolf. What is also very exciting is that we now have an official Specimen of the Week plaque- YAY! You will find it currently sitting proudly in front of the spotted hyena skull, which seems to have a bigger grin than normal today.