Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sympathy for the devil.

Why IS the hyena so demonized and despised? Surely in this more enlightened age it's time this poor creature was given an image makeover.

I've met quite a few hyenas in my time and Personally I think they are wonderful creatures and not at all deserving of their reputation as cowardly and timid predators, on the contrary they can be bold, courageous and intelligent hunters. The Hyena is Africa's most common large predator and arguably it's most successful. Surely it deserves respect for that. It is supremely adapted to life in all areas of Africa from Savannas to grasslands, woodlands, forest edges, subdeserts and even mountains up to 13,000 feet.

Did you know? that Hyenas have the most powerful jaws on the African plains enabling them to eat everything they kill, The only parts of prey not fully digested are hair, horns and hooves; these are regurgitated in the form of pellets. As hyenas hunt mostly at night and devour all parts, little evidence remains of their meals.

Although hyenas eat a lot of dry bones, they need little water.

Their clans are very complex social affairs, which can be up to 100 members strong and they even organize themselves into using special 'toilet' areas. The females are dominant over the males and are heavier than them. The females genitalia are very masculinized which contributes to their being aggressive. This is due to the presence of higher level of testosterone in the female's body than that of the males.

They make the most varied vocalizations, including wailing calls, howling screams and the well-known "laughter" used to alert other clan members up to three miles away of a food source.

Hyenas are also wonderful mothers suckling their young for up to 18 months.

There is a lot more to the hyena than meets the eye! I definately think they deserve a little more respect than they get.

Above is part of an acrylic painting I did many years ago. I observed these particular hyenas hunting on the lake in the middle of Ngorongoro crater. I was fascinated to watch them playing dead, they were waiting for a flamingo to venture too close and then they would spring to life and catch it in an instant. I discovered this painting recently gathering dust in my attic. Such was the hyenas reputation that there was never any point in me displaying it at my shows. I dont know if people are ready for hyena paintings even now, but I'd like to think that people are beginning to realize what an amazing animal this really is.

One last little hyena story.... I once camped out on the Serengeti plains which was an amazing experience, but not without it's problems. What do you do in the middle of the night if you have a bad case of 'Africa tummy' and are desperate for the toilet, but all around the tent you can hear hyenas calling and whooping to a pride of angry lions making equally loud noises a short distance away! It was a very long and painful night I can tell you!