Least Favorite Animal

Spotted Hyena

Spotted Hyena

I mentioned in a previous post that I’m often asked which African animal is my favorite. As I explained, it’s actually a tough question because there are so many worthy candidates. I’ve never been asked which animal I like the least, but that would certainly be an easy one to answer.
All animals that manage to survive and thrive in such a demanding environment deserve our respect. But I’ve found the spotted hyena to be the most difficult of all creatures to love. They are physically unappealing, with short rear legs and a sloping back that makes every movement a suspicious looking skulk. Their eyes are warm in color but cold in aspect, with a curious dead quality that reminds one of a shark’s eyes. They hunt on occasion, but prefer to steal their food if the opportunity is presented. The cheetah, because it is light and fragile, stands no chance against the hyena. If the cheetah brings down a gazelle within the sight or hearing of a hyena, then it has labored for nothing. The hyena will ignore the cheetah and move in directly to take the prey. They also steal from lions, but this requires a concentrated team effort by the entire pack. The hyenas swarm around the pride until the lions, annoyed and frustrated beyond their ability to endure, slink away and leave the kill to the pests.
Watching a hyena take a live animal is not a sight for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Lions, leopards and cheetahs kill quickly by clamping onto the throat of the victim. Once in the grasp, the prey animal is dispatched in mere minutes (cape buffalo is the exception owing to its size and strength). The hyena is not so merciful. They disable their prey, take it to the ground and begin to eat immediately. The “kill” is often still alive even after it is half devoured.
The cliché is true … the African plain is indeed “unforgiving.” When I see an injured gazelle or wildebeest — and there are many during the migration time — I make a silent wish that the hyena will be the last predator to cross its path. Better to die of dehydration in the sun than to become a meal for my least favorite animal.

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