[an error occurred while processing this directive] [an error occurred while processing this directive]

Misjudged Hyenas
JUNE 2005
Feature Main Page
Photo Gallery
On Assignment
Learn More
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Learn More
In Learn More the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects. Special thanks to the Research Division.

Content Jump Links:
 Did You Know?  
 Related Links  
 NGS Resources  

Did You Know?Did You Know?

Scientists who study hyenas often express downright despair at what they believe are unfair stereotypes of their subjects, whom they see as intelligent and even beautiful creatures. But that image is not the one that flickers in the public imagination. According to University of California, Berkeley, biologist Stephen Glickman, when Disney animators went to a hyena research facility to make sketches for The Lion King, scientists there made a plea for showing the predators in a more positive light—but the trio of hyenas in the movie turned out to be less than lovable.
A few examples of hyenas' public relations challenges are listed below:
  • Hyenas are considered a favorite mode of transportation for witches in Tanzania and India.
  • Sudanese folklore and Persian medical writings from the 14th century warn of a combination man and hyena, similar to a werewolf, who attacks people under cover of darkness.
  • In the Middle Ages, hyenas were believed to dig up and consume human corpses.
  • In Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway wrote about "Fisi, the hyena, hermaphroditic self-eating devourer of the dead, trailer of calving cows, ham-stringer, potential biter-off of your face at night while you slept, sad yowler, camp-follower, stinking, foul, with jaws that crack the bones the lion leaves, belly dragging, loping away on the brown plain . . . "
But on a more positive note, Roman scholar Pliny the Elder believed that the skin of a hyena's head would cure a headache. And in some cultures, hyena body parts are considered to work wonders as love potions and aphrodisiacs.
—Shelley Sperry


    Related Links

    Kay E. Holekamp Lab
    Take a tour of the online research lab of zoologist Kay Holekamp and her team. Holekamp provides an overview of her work with this "magnificent carnivore," and links to publications on topics from reproduction to sibling rivalry. The site also includes a photo gallery and a "Day in the Life of a Hyena."
    Animal Diversity Web
    Check out the facts about spotted hyenas put together by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. The site includes information about the animals' range, conservation status, diet, life cycle—and plenty of photos.



    Glickman, Stephen. E. "The Spotted Hyena from Aristotle to the Lion King: Reputation is Everything." Social Research (Fall 1995), 501-37.
    Kruuk, Hans. The Spotted Hyena: A Study of Predation and Social Behavior. University of Chicago Press, 1972.
    Pickrell, John. "Rebranding the Hyena." Science News (April 27, 2002), 267.

    NGS Resources

    Kaufmann, Carol. "Mama Cat." National Geographic (January 2005), 34-51.
    Warne, Kennedy. "Okavango: Africa's Miracle Delta." National Geographic (December 2004), 42-67.
    Fay, J. Michael. "Gabon's Loango National Park: In the Land of the Surfing Hippos." National Geographic (August 2004), 100-27.
    Goodman, Susan. "Animal Athletes: Animals Go for the Gold in Their Own Olympics." National Geographic Explorer! (May 2004), 4-9.
    Warren, Lynne. "
    Calls in the Wild." National Geographic (March 2004), 96-101.
    Holland, Jennifer Steinberg. "Zebras: Born to Roam." National Geographic (September 2003), 30-43.
    Goodall, Jane. "
    Fifi Fights Back." National Geographic (April 2003), 76-89.
     Sunquist, Fiona. "Designed to Kill."  National Geographic World (September 2000), 19-21, 26.
    "Cheetahs Growing Up in the Wild."  National Geographic World (August 1984), 14-9.

    E-Mail this Page to a Friend