Myths and Bad Reputations in South Africa and Around the World

Myths and Bad Reputations in South Africa and Around the World

Does this hyena pup know its reputation? Does it have any idea how it is depicted in Disney films? This innocent little fellow my husband and I saw on a 12-day bush trip in Africa has not a notion of how he’s been presented to the world and how that might affect his future. He does not even own the spots, yet that will identify him his whole life as the spotted hyena or the laughing hyena. Would he wish to rid himself of them if he knew?

Human babies have this dilemma as well. A dark-skinned human baby has no idea that his skin color will affect his whole journey in life. Perhaps on this basis alone, he will be viewed as a predator, seeking to injure or kill other humans for his assumed savagery, his own selfish gain or to merely challenge the color “white.” Should the lighter a man or a woman’s skin be the determining factor of his or her status in society? Why do we even feel this competition amongst shades of darker races?

My husband and I sat watching these critters for some time. Maybe this is part of the answer. The more familiar we become with animals or humans, whatever their variety, the more we see ourselves in them and the less judgmental we become. At least, one would hope for greater awareness and understanding.

Contrary to what I have read about hyenas, we did observe females watching out for each other’s cubs while they took turns hunting or even wandering for a stroll. Although their behavior is said to be highly competitive, what we observed looked an awful lot like cooperation. They are highly social creatures and their babies frolic and cavort like any other children might. Curious and intelligent in nature, they wandered in fairly close proximity to our Land Rover.

Yes, I imagine they can be vicious when they need to eat or they perceive danger. After all, hyenas are wild animals. But I believe we, as human beings, ought to be able to do much better. We have language, if we can only learn how to use it properly, to advance and preserve life rather than to destroy it.

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