Monday, August 17, 2009

The shallow end of the gene pool

As we all know, we are not all equally blessed when it comes to genetic perfection, and our hyenas are no exception. Here are two particular gems:

Having had braces for five years, I can relate to poor Snaggletooth, who's looked like this since she was a kid:
Just looking at her cracks me up. But she's smarter than she looks.

Then there's this poor soul...a three-month old cub that is almost certainly blind (I don't think I need to point him out in the photo below).

I fondly call him "Demon Hyena."
When he was two months old, his eyes were a striking blue, but over the last month they have noticeably turned green. It's actually quite sad to watch him because he wanders around, constantly sniffing the air, occasionally stepping on other hyenas, who are less patient than we might be. Unfortunately, vision is absolutely crucial in the life of a hyena. Not only do you need to be able to see to hunt and watch out for ill-intentioned lions, but so many of the social cues that hyenas use are also visual, such as putting ears back to show submission, or giving nasty glares to show dominance. In hyena societies, much like middle school, it's ALL about fitting in and knowing your place in the social hierarchy. If this guy can't recognize when he's being "yelled" at, he might accidentally sit at the Cool Kids' table when he shouldn't, or fail to pay enough respect to the captain of the cheerleading squad. In middle school that might get you stuffed in a locker...for this guy, it will be a lot worse. For now, though, he's lucky enough to still belong at the den, so he doesn't need to depend on anyone but his mama, who surely loves him in spite of his blindness.

That being said, every time we see him we rejoice a little that he's still hanging in. Let's just say I don't think he should buy the big tube of toothpaste.


Dana-Phoenix, Arizona said...

Poor thing - I hate posts like this. Cause you know this little one will suffer a horrible death by the predators.

Spikey said...

Crap, my innate cynical nature just sloped off to hide.

I assume there is zero chance that somebody (human i mean) will get the chance to adopt the little guy once he moves outside of his his safe zone with the mother / pack?

Sometimes you just want to pretend it's ok to interfere. :(

Leslie said...

I know, it IS really sad—but the reality of watching wildlife is that it's WILD. And most of the time that's great, because you get to see animals living in their natural habitats, but it also means that you have to see some of the sad parts, too. Bad things happen to wild animals all the time, just like they do to people—animals get killed, they starve, they get diseases...but that's the way of things, and how it should be. I would consider myself an irresponsible science blogger if I edited out all the less-than-happy things that happen to our hyenas.

And I personally feel a LOT less sad seeing this little guy, happy as a clam in his peaceful oblivion, than I feel when I think about all the terrible things humans do to animals. Sure, this cub is going to die, but who isn't? His end might come sooner than most, but I can promise you it will be quick, which is more than I can say for animals in countless human-related situations. So trust me, this guy is way happier with his life now, short or not, than he would be being adopted by one of us.

Dana-Phoenix, Arizona said...

I know all you say Leslie is true, but it still breaks my heart.

Will be coming to the Mara 10-27 Sept and we are going to pop over to see you guys. Asuka suggested a night drive with you all - if that's possible?

Leslie said...

For sure, we'd love to have you. You can email me at and we can set something up.

Anonymous said...

I'm actually really curious as to what is going on with his eyes. His photos remind me of tapetum light reflection.

Linda said...

In my opinion,animals still need to learn to be strong and be accustomed to the environment.But ,anyway, I think that the hyena is brave enough and I like it.It is very lovely.

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