|Mufasa from The Lion King. (c) Disney|
|An actual lion I saw in the Maasai Mara.|
|Banzai, Shenzi, and Ed from The Lion King. (c) Disney|
1. Hyenas are stupid.
In reality, spotted hyenas are very intelligent!
They can solve complex cognitive puzzles. As Lily Johnson-Ulrich described in previous blog posts (here and here), spotted hyenas exhibit "inhibitory control" (self-restraint), behavioral flexibility, and, as we've seen from their successes with Lily's multi-access box, an ability to solve novel foraging problems. All of these traits are signs of general intelligence.
2. Hyenas are nothing but lowly scavengers.
Spotted hyenas, though, are excellent hunters. In fact, they kill 60 to 95 percent of the food they eat themselves. They are very flexible hunters, too, able to catch and consume everything from termites to elephants.
Above video (sorry if it's hard to see; you might have to zoom in on your browser to spot the hyenas!): some of our spotted hyenas test chasing wildebeests, trying to figure out who might be their next meal. They obviously work for a living!
Furthermore, lions steal from hyena kills MORE OFTEN than hyenas steal from lions! So really, Scar's "minions" would more likely have been the ones catching food for him!
3. Hyenas are ugly.
I want you to look into Kerri Strug's eyes and tell her that she's ugly.
Or this cub's eyes.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so your opinion may differ from mine, but I personally do not think hyenas are ugly. Also, lions have their bad hair days, too.
4. Hyenas are ecologically damaging.
After hyenas move into the homeland of the lions of The Lion King, the landscape is reduced to a barren wasteland.
Spotted hyenas consume carcasses and even bones, removing detritus from a landscape and thereby helping to keep it clean and healthy. When they do this, they may also help reduce the spread of diseases in their prey populations. As a top predator, it is likely that spotted hyenas also help to maintain the genetic health of their prey populations, by eliminating weaker, or otherwise unhealthy, animals.
|The Mara ecosystem would be incomplete without hyenas roaming through it.|
In short, spotted hyenas do not create wastelands. Instead, they help to maintain ecosystem health, and could also help us to monitor it.
5. Hyenas are all alike.
In the most famous scene featuring hyenas in The Lion King, a song called "Be Prepared", huge ranks of hyenas march together as a massive army, and they all look and act identically, like toy soldiers made in the same mold on an assembly line.
Some have reddish-orange fur. Some have silvery fur. Some have tan fur. Some have blond fur. Some have blackish brown fur. Some have dark spots and some have faint spots, and no two hyenas have the same spot pattern.
|TAMI, a pale blond subadult spotted hyena.|
|MUKI, a darker-furred subadult spotted hyena.|
#After reading this post, you may say, "Okay, Amy, I get it, but it's just a MOVIE. A CARTOON, no less. Relax!"
But whether we acknowledge it or not, the media has a powerful influence on our lives, affecting everything from what we wear and what we eat to the products we buy and even how we vote. And, as I've discussed, it has an effect on which animals we revere and which we despise. The Lion King was, and still is, an incredibly popular film, so it has had a profound impact on our culture for decades. It did a great disservice to hyenas by encouraging people to perceive them in such a negative, and flagrantly untrue, light. It's time we start to turn those perceptions around.
Please share this with everyone you know who has ever watched The Lion King, and help change people's minds about hyenas. Thank you!
The Lion King by Walt Disney Co.