Recommended hyena-reading

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For all of us hyena apprecionados, there’s a new book available in the Reaktion Animal Series about our otherwise maligned friends. Mikita Brottman wrote this one and included all four species of the hyena family (spotted, striped, brown, and aardwolf). After an account of the evolution and biology of hyenas, the really meaty part of the book is an unnatural history. We begin with prehistory, and the 32,000 year old painting of a spotted hyena in Chauvet cave in France. From there we skip to classical times (they were notoriously poor record keepers in the Neolithic period) and accounts from Greek and Roman geographers and natural historians. Hyenas make appearances in all manner of medieval bestiaries, Victorian zoos, sideshows and pop culture. And then there is all the mythology and folklore of hyenas in Africa. Really you could write volumes on this subject but given such limited space, Mikita does really well. Throughout, she askes the question of why it is that hyenas are so feared, loathed and despised by so many, even people with little experience of these animals? I highly recommend this book if you’re interested in hyenas and their cultural representations (and not just because I was given a free copy!). And it must have cost a bundle to get permissions for all the great images. My favourite is a copperplate engraving from 1775 of a spotted hyena (page 60), supposedly looking dastardly and voracious, but to me looking like he just ate a lemon.

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