Hyena by Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sabisabireserve/)

Hyena by Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sabisabireserve/)

Hyenas are fantastic creatures. They’re feliform carnivores which means that they’re meat-eaters more closely related to cats than dogs. That fact alone always makes me geek out about evolution. Hyenas can literally crush bones and play dead when attacked by a superior carnivore. The laugh is well known but it turns out that may be limited only to the striped hyena whereas the spotted hyena can make all sorts of noises and apparently does so often. Although it happens rarely nowadays, hyenas are known to attack and eat people too.

Besides their physical characteristics hyenas are featured heavily in all sorts of mythology. They are mostly thought to influence people’s spirits and steal children, livestock and rob graves making it an ideal mount for witches. In parts of Africa they are also thought to be the creature that brought the sun to warm the Earth. Members of some tribes are thought to be able to transform to hyenas at will and hyena dung in some parts is thought to allow children to walk earlier. Middle-Eastern/Arabian literature often refers to hyenas as symbols of treachery and stupidity, although folklore from the same area tells that hyenas can mesmerize people through their eyes. In Afghanistan, Palestine and India the mythology is even more varied with hyenas featured also as signs of love and fertility.

Hyena resting by Judith Anenberg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/redsea_eilat/)

Hyena resting by Judith Anenberg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/redsea_eilat/)