Thursday, May 19, 2005

"Misjudged Hyenas"


I would be remiss were I not to draw attention to the June 2005 issue of National Geographic. "Misjudged Hyenas" showcases photographs of Crocuta crocuta.

The Latin name drips off the tongue; equal parts sensuality and mystery, it sounds almost vampiric, but the animal itself is anything but sensual. In fact, it is in part the raw ugliness of the animal that so attracts me to them. Muscular and equipped with impressive jaws, these slope-backed animals have long been characterized as pathetic, stupid scavengers. This couldn't be more inaccurate an assessment. Biologists have known for years that hyenas are excellent predators. More recently, we learned that they have an extremely complex social hierarchy, far more sophisticated than that of lions and, according to some biologists, approaching that of ape species.

More closely related to the mongoose than to the bear or dog, hyaenas belong to the cat-like superfamily (or suborder, depending on your preference) of carnivores, Feliformia. Curiously, the spread on pages 62-63 of the June issue makes clear this relationship. In the image, a hyaena has been trapped in a bog by a pair of male lions and they are preparing to kill the smaller predator. The hyaena is covered with glistening mud and rears back in a futile defensive display. Muddied as he is, the physiological similarities between the mongoose and the hyaena are made clear.

At any rate, when I began this blog, I promised a longer post on this fascinating animal. One is forthcoming.

Photo credit: Anup and Manoj Shah, 2004

7 comments:

paddalumpakins said...

I don't know what to say about this post really, but I really like your blog.

Hungry Hyaena said...

Thanks, St. SNAFU. Your blog ain't half bad itself...so to speak.

OGeorge said...

HH, I have to disagree about the beauty of Hyaenas. Though they tend to get battle-scared and pot-bellied with age, young adults are fine looking animals. 20 years ago I did a whole series of behavioral drawings of Spotted Hyaenas for the Denver Zoo. I was asked to show Hyaena display and social behavior without showing genitals! A lot of strategically placed heads and legs. I'm sure you'll get into some of the more interesting aspects in a future entry, so I won't give away the "ending". Very interesting animals, I'll look forward to the post.

chris@organicmatter said...

How come random cute girls don't come around dropping comments on my blog? Too serious, perhaps?

blakisu said...

Nice post. Also looking forward to the next post.

Hungry Hyaena said...

O'George:

I am in complete agreement. I think hyaenas are stunning creatures.

My wording was misleading, perhaps, as I do find them "beautiful," but a hyaena is beautiful to me in the same way that a powerful boxer is; this variety of beauty is not a sensual one, as with a gorgeous woman, but a more brutal, essential one.

As for avoiding the genitals when depicting a hyaena...that's a tough undertaking.

Chris:

It ain't happening all the time, so I wouldn't sweat it. ;)

ginnalaska said...

Guilty admission...
A friend lent me her TV, VCR, DVD player, couch, and among the DVDs, her complete "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" collection. I'm sure you'll understand that in the midst of my final thesis semester, it has been important every so often to melt my brain with 45 minutes of TV here and there. The episode "The Pack" is my favorite yet (yes, I'm still in season one) -- and although I won't give the plot away in case you haven't seen it, hyaenas are involved....