Thursday, May 19, 2005
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