Tag Archives: hyaena

Hi, intelligent hyena

A spotted hyena at the Mara after the rains. This rainbow appeared almost magically, as they always do. Little did this hyena know how pretty the scene was, as it peered curiously into the vehicle.

These highly intelligent creatures have long been misunderstood. Recent studies have revealed their intelligence rival some primates- a test population in the wild were found to use trial and error to solve puzzles, and clans have been found to assess a competing clan that was invading their territory based on the number of calls they heard.

Further, contrary to popular opinion, these highly adept hunters, more often than not, carry out more of their own kills than they do scavenge. Interestingly, in a number of studies, it was found that lions regularly steal food from hyena clans. Now that’s food for thought.

Belonging to female-led clans and working in teams, their powerful jaws can crush bone to access nutritious marrow, important especially when feeding on leftovers of carrion. Their ability to digest rotting carcasses also helps to reduce the spread of disease in the ecosystem.

So, what’s not to love about the hyena? And for anyone who’s ever looked at a wild one in the eyes, they’ll tell you that they are truly, beautiful creatures.

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Smart, vocal and skilled hunters

We have come to adore the lion, and yet its fellow hyena neighbours have been placed in the ’not so pretty’ category. What a misunderstanding!

Usually portrayed as scavengers, the spotted hyena is, in fact, a highly skilled hunter and more often than not, capture their own meals. The large brains of these intelligent creatures enable them to engage in complex decision-making and to exist within complex social arrangements inside clans. And with an amazingly diverse range of vocalisations, these creatures exhibit high intellectual capability.

In saying this, the intelligence of a creature should not determine the level of respect it deserves. Perhaps there’ll be a day when all animals are treated equally. Regardless, I will continue to marvel at these creatures with awe. This particular beautiful hyena bounded along the savannah while the sun was just about to dip below the horizon. She headed straight for the vehicle along with her partner, highly curious, circling us and looking in intently for clues. The eye contact, the setting light of the sun, and this silent connection with her made for a moment I’ll never forget. Simple, yes. Beautiful? Utterly.

And I thank them, for some of the best nights of sleep I’ve had in the wild are undoubtedly due to their soothing night calls. May we come to respect all animals- we were all created to share the same planet.

What’s in a laugh?

So what’s in a laugh? Well, nothing funny at all for the hyena. More often than not, in mainstream media, depicted to be cackling in a somewhat evil manner, portrayed in a negative light due to their scavenging ability. However this laughter is no sign of fun- they are in fact a sign of distress or nervous excitement, and usually made during fight or flight mode- typically when chasing a larger predator, or are being chased themselves.

If the range of vocalisations can indicate how highly intelligent, social and complex a creature is, then the hyena has it in spades. Much like the elephant, they have a range of different vocalisations to communicate various messages, including who they are in the social structure of the matriarchal clan, how they’re feeling, where they are, who to band up with, who to fight, and much else besides. And on another level, their whooping calls, are to me, the most comforting sounds in the night- and will invariably send me off to the best sleep. So here’s to the beautiful hyena. Misunderstood, misrepresented, but amazing.