Native to Lebanon, and some African and other Middle Eastern countries, is the carnivorous mammal known as the Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena).
Misconceptions surrounding this animal abound. These false notions have been propagated and passed on from generation to generation, creating a distorted image of the hyena. This distortion has become stuck in the minds of a majority of people. In fact, if you are one of the many people who have enjoyed the Disney cartoon, The Lion King, you might be well aware of how hyenas have been portrayed in popular culture: ugly, evil beasts.
Unfortunately, a consequence of this portrayal and of how people generally think of hyenas is that this animal has been viciously persecuted, rendering its state of existence one of turmoil and distress, and causing its very survival to come into question—it has received a Near-Threatened status based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s system of categorization. This means that total extinction is a possible outcome for this species in the near future. Even though this species is not currently at risk of going extinct, this does not mean that we should be apathetic or complacent in how we approach this species. If we continue on the path we are on, we may one day be directly responsible for wiping this animal off the face of the planet.
Members of this species are poisoned, hunted as trophies, or captured and sold off to be used for entertainment. This is a bad trend if only because the hyena plays a vital role in the ecosystem. Even if you do not care that deeply about the hyena for its own sake, you should care for the sake of the world you inhabit.
Hyenas are often called nature’s “clean-up crew”. They scavenge for food nocturnally; their diet mainly consists of the remains of carcasses and discarded rotten human trash, making this species excellent ‘sanitizers’ of the environment. They are remarkable in their ability to consume body parts of other animals, such as hooves or bones. This allows them to recycle important nutrients, such as calcium, into the environment. They have a fascinating immune system, providing them with immunity to a variety of diseases. Evolving mainly as scavengers, they naturally attained the ability to resist disease-causing pathogens, such as those that cause rabies or anthrax, that would often be devastating to other mammals.
It is worth noting as well that hyenas are not known for aggression, preferring instead to remain avoidant of humans. They hide during the day and come out at night to feed.
In order to attempt to change the image normally associated with hyenas, we decided to interview someone who has had the opportunity of interacting with these incredible animals, in hopes that through sharing some of her own experience with us, we may yet gain a different, perhaps more positive, perspective on them.
Marwa Younes was part of the Lebanese NGO Animals Lebanon, known to carry out rescue missions for animals in dire conditions, particularly wild ones. During her tenure, one of the many cases involved two hyena cubs that were rescued after their mother had been killed by humans.
Below is an interview with Marwa recounting this rescue and the process of providing these precious orphans with the care they needed.
- Was that the first time you come into contact with hyenas?
The two orphan hyena cubs were not the first hyenas I came into contact with. Animals Lebanon had helped several adult hyenas before they rescued these two. The other hyenas were all rescued from zoos or private homes where they were kept in extremely bad and unhygienic conditions. All of them were confiscated, placed in safe temporary locations, taken care of, and then sent to a sanctuary in France. Although there wasn’t a lot of direct contact with those animals, as they weren’t too used to humans, I got to experience their presence and to watch their behavior.
- What was the first thought that crossed your mind when you first saw the rescued hyena cubs face to face?
How small and fragile they were! I remember they came to the office late at night, all the way from the South of Lebanon. They were cold, hungry, and had rat poison on them, as the people who killed their mother and stole them from the den sprayed them with rat poison thinking it would kill off the fleas!
- Did your experiences with hyenas change your own perception of them, and if so, in what way?
I have always viewed hyenas as magnificent animals that deserve every right to share this planet with us. The experience of taking part in raising two orphans did not greatly alter my views about them, as I believe all creatures on this planet (including us!) are equal and should have the right to be protected and not persecuted for simply existing. However, my day to day experience with them and the emotions I developed for them definitely made me a stronger and a more outspoken advocate for hyenas. Also, I came to experience their softer side; I better understood their physical and emotional needs, their social structure and how they deal with each other, how they defend one another and the people who took care of them, how they crave love and care much like a child would, and how sensitive and wary of humans they are. Even though these two hyenas were raised by humans since the age of 10 days, they remained shy and timid around people they did not know.
- Is there a special memory with them that you would like to share with us?
Every moment spent with them was special in its own way. But if I had to choose ONE memory and mark it as THE SPECIAL MEMORY I have of them, I would say it is when we got them a small kiddy pool one hot summer day. I literally saw their eyes sparkle with excitement and enthusiasm. At first, they were very skeptical about the body of water sitting in the middle of their enclosure, but after some encouragement from our side they stepped in and did not want to step out! Of course, the kiddy pool was completely destroyed by the end of the day.
- With so many misconceptions surrounding hyenas, and speaking for them, what message would you like to leave people with?
We have been persecuting and killing off way too many species around us; it is time for it to stop. Science and education are proving to be extremely powerful tools in stopping abuse (whether that of humans, animals, or even nature and the planet). All the misconceptions surrounding Striped Hyenas in Lebanon and hyenas worldwide are completely not true and have no scientific basis. I came to realize that they’re just very old common stories that have been passed on from generation to generation, fueling hatred and fear towards these magnificent animals.
I believe in educating the public, and if that is achieved, people will get to learn that hyenas are not here to hurt us. On the contrary, since they are scavengers, they are very important to us, as they keep the lands clean. They were here before us; we took their homes and lands! Hyenas are very shy and timid and they are not known to initiate an attack against a person crossing their path.
I hope people connect more with the compassionate side in them and learn to see that we share this world with many amazing creatures that deserve to be here as much as we do.
Disclaimer! Wild animals belong in the wild and should only be handled for rescue purposes by professional individuals who are part of animal rescue organizations.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Alam, M. Shamshad, and Jamal A. Khan. “Food habits of striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) in a semi-arid conservation area of India.” Journal of Arid Land 7.6 (2015): 860-866.
Kruuk, Hans. “Feeding and social behaviour of the striped hyaena (Hyaena vulgaris Desmarest).” African Journal of Ecology 14.2 (1976): 91-111.
Flies, Andrew S., et al. “Development of a hyena immunology toolbox.” Veterinary immunology and immunopathology 145.1 (2012): 110-119
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the site administration and/or other contributors to this site.