Cowardly, scavengers, maniacal harbingers of witchcraft - the hyena image in the human mind is hardly flattering. Thanks to the likes of Disney, ancient prejudices live on in the 21st century. A new book aims to set the record straight.
In his new book Humans and Hyenas: Monster or Misunderstood, Keith Somerville aims to repair the predator's undeserved reputation in human eyes. Somerville's title might be slightly misleading: he clearly regards the monster of the human imagination as misunderstood. Through an extensive overview of scientific, historical and popular literature, Somerville uncovers the roots of the misconceptions around the three species of hyena - the striped, spotted and brown - and makes a compelling case for the cause of their conservation.
"No other animal is quite so bound up in people's minds with death as the hyena, and across practically all of its range in Africa, West Asia and South Asia it features in mythology and folktales, with strong associations with evil, cowardice and witchcraft," Somerville writes.
"European accounts of hyenas, secondhand and garbled, follow many of the same patterns and incorporate the myths about hermaphroditism derived from the unusual external form of the female genital organs of spotted hyenas. In...