Disney FOOLED You Into Thinking HYENAS Are Ugly

Wrongly perpetuated as villains, Hyenas are beautiful, intelligent and fascinating to watch on safari. Here’s why…

The Hyenas are one of the antagonists of Disney’s 1994 animated feature film, The Lion King. The fictional hyenas work for Scar (you know Scar is fictional also, yes?) until the end of the film when they murder him for his betrayal and false information.

Perpetuated in The Lion King as crazed, dim-witted, greedy animals, who have little respect for fellow creatures, hyenas have received a bad wrap for behaviours and personalities they paint them in a not-so-true light. As with any wild animal, hyenas fight for survival and having other predators and scavengers offering competition for food and space, it’s no surprise that hyenas will do what they can to survive.

But the same life journey exists for every animal.

Hyenas are caring, social, pragmatic, fierce, powerful, highly interesting and led by strong female leaders.

Hyena Facts

  1. There are 4 sub-species of hyena: the commonly seen Spotted Hyena, and less populated Striped Hyena, the shaggy-haired Brown Hyena and the often forgotten Aardwolf (aardwolf looks most like a striped hyena but that’s where similarities end between them)
  2. Hyenas are one of the best mothers in the animal kingdom and invest more energy per cub than any other carnivore
  3. Unlike spotted hyenas, the Aardwolf sees both the male and female accept responsibility for caring for their young
  4. Amazingly, hyena cubs are “precocial”, meaning that they are born in a more advanced stage of development with their eyes open, teeth intact, and muscles, unlike many cat species where cubs are born largely blind and helpless for several weeks. Hyena cubs are ready to go…
  5. A hyena cub will suckle on their mothers’ extremely fat and protein-rich milk for well over a year, showing how dedicated female hyenas are to their young
  6. Far from being “dim” as Disney and other stories will tell you, hyenas are actually extremely intelligent with some research showing levels of intelligence and problem solving to that of Chimpanzees
  7. A hyena’s bite that can kill and also crush bones, with the ability to exert over 1,100 psi. Hyenas can crack open bones nearly 2 ½ inches in diameter, allowing them to access the nutrient-rich marrow
  8. Aardwolf’s on the other hand, do not hunt large animals, they eat insects and their larvae
  9. Spotted hyena’s are not JUST scavengers as falsely portrayed. Whilst brown and striped hyenas largely scavenge and can even chase cheetahs off their prey, spotted hyenas are versatile hunters, with studies having shown that hyenas kill 66-90% of what they eat. Strong and physically fit, spotted hyenas can run down their prey to exhaustion, cruising at speeds of approximately 37 mph (60 kph) for several miles
  10. Hyena’s are of course rivals in the animal world with lions, yet hyenas can outlive lions by a few years, typically to ages of 20+, compared to lions who typically live between 12-18 in the wild
  11. Clans of spotted hyenas can see up to 100 or more individual hyenas, often spread out into groups and solitary animals. Whilst brown hyenas may live in clans of up to 14 individuals.
  12. Females rule hyena clans, with females occupying all dominant positions from the matriarch female at the top, followed by their cubs and then male hyenas
  13. Hyenas have more than 11 distinct vocalizations, with some scientists claiming there are as many as 28
  14. Hyena are one of the most social animals in the animal kingdom, which is demonstrated in their ability to form such large clans and for the females to maintain their hierarchal structure

Hyena Conservation

Human-wildlife conflict is a major concern and impact to predators and other animals. Like many carnivores, hyenas come into conflict with humans when they prey on livestock. They are often seen as a pest species, which can result in retaliatory killings by farmers and local villages — especially by poisoning, which can then affect a variety of species including vultures.

As human populations expand and growth of agriculture, settlements, and roads results, wildlife is losing space in which it was previously able to roam freely. In 2019, Namibian authorities came under attack for shooting 3 spotted hyenas following attacks by the hyenas on local wild horses. Then we have the deplorable practices of the Zimbabwe government, who have removed wild hyena (along with elephants and lions) for supply to Chinese zoos.

According to the IUCN Red List;

Striped hyena number between 5,000-9,999
Brown hyena number between 4,365-10,111
Spotted hyena number between 27,000-47,000
Aardwolf number between (unknown)

Whilst striped and brown hyenas are classified as near threatened by the IUCN, spotted hyenas of least concern, whilst aardwolf’s have limited research on their distribution and population. It’s also worth noting that population numbers don’t clarify the risk to these animals from a conservation stand-point and the efforts still greatly required to help conserve their species.

We must also address the issue of captivity and how hyena, along with other wild animals, are poached and removed from the wild, legally and illegally, for supply into the chain of captivity that feeds the zoo industry. Captivity is an issue that sadly many people are unfazed by, due to the seemingly good few zoos that exist that contribute somewhat to conservation projects. But do a select handful of “good facilities” outweigh the greater zoo industry that continues to exploit animals for minimal impact and mis-educate the public on wild spaces and threats to wild animals?

Films such as Disney’s The Lion King and other false narratives of both animals and people, must be reconsidered and carefully addressed to avoid stereotyping and misrepresenting, that may ultimately cause more harm and impact to species as hyena.

Hyena conservation in action © AfriCat Namibia

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Disney FOOLED You Into Thinking HYENAS Are Ugly … via @bettersafaris #education #conservation #safari #travel #lionking #disney #animallovers


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One thought on “Disney FOOLED You Into Thinking HYENAS Are Ugly

  1. Yes!!! Smithsonian proved that hyenas are smarter than lions in a documentary! The lions took longer than the hyenas. There was a mirror maze, the lion got distracted by its reflection and started roaring at it, thinking it was an intruding male. The hyenas went straight through the mirror maze and ate the prize meat.

    Liked by 1 person

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