Here on the Hyena Project, we can turn any Average Joe into an eagle-eyed hyena finder. After a while, you’ll be able to detect the flick of a hyena’s ear in a stand of tall grass, or spot a hyena on the move hundreds of meters away. In fact, when you’re really on your game, you’ll know exactly which hyena possesses that flicking ear by its distinctive shape, and you'll be able to identify that distant hyena by its idiosyncratic gait.
However, you may occasionally go for hours, or even days, without seeing a single hyena…that’s when your super-hyena-sense gets a bit too sensitive. You’ll see, out of the corner of your eye, a shape that you’re convinced is absolutely, without a doubt, a hyena. You’d swear it on Darwin’s grave.
As you raise your binoculars to your eyes to see it more clearly, you’ve already started celebrating, gloating inwardly (or, in some cases, outwardly) about being the first to spot this long-awaited hyena.
Sadly, at this point you look through your binoculars and realize it isn’t actually a hyena at all, but a rock. Or a bush. Maybe it’s a topi. In any case…it definitely isn’t a hyena. This happens repeatedly, until you think you’ve gone insane.
In fact, there are particular stumps and termite mounds along our daily route that I know for a fact aren’t hyenas. Yet I am inexplicably compelled to look at these inanimate objects through my binoculars every time I pass, just in case they've somehow morphed into actual hyenas. They never have, but still, I check.
Over the years, we’ve mistaken nearly everything possible for hyenas. Logs, dirt mounds, and bushes are among the most common culprits. Warthogs’ rear ends look uncannily like hyenas. Someone on the project, and I won’t name names, once mistook a single blade of grass for a hyena. It sounds crazy, I know…but when you really want to see a hyena, your imagination can trick you into almost anything.