Hey now this is interesting. Take a look at this story from Sciencedaily.
Some researchers from the Masai Mara hyena research project ran an experiment where they presented a puzzle – a metal cage with meat inside and a latched door – to the hyenas of the Talek clan. Success rate was pretty low, only 15% of the hyenas solved the puzzle. But when the experiment was run another time with captive hyenas from the colony at Berkeley, California, more than 80% of the hyenas solved the puzzle! That’s a pretty big difference and it’s a bit hard to explain.
One thing they found was that persistence with the puzzle was a pretty good measure of success. The Masai Mara hyenas did not persist with it as much as the Berkeley hyenas. Another interesting thing was that adult captive hyenas were less wary of the puzzle than adult hyenas in the Mara. And juvenile captives were more wary than juveniles from the Mara. What the hell does that mean? Anyone? One way to get closer to the answer is to try this problem solving on the Harar hyenas. They’re certainly not wary of human-made objects, in fact they normally see them as opportunities (see below and elsewhere a video of Willi chewing on a car bumper). But they can be wary of novel items. I remember when the municipality unloaded a pile of cobblestones at the feeding place. The hyenas were extra skittish and many were afraid to approach and take food.
So I’m talking with the lovely people from the Masai Mara project to see if it’s going to be possible to replicate this experiment in Harar. And I bet my Harar hyenas are pretty good at solving puzzles. But the key will be teasing apart any fear of human-made objects from a fear of novel objects.