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© 2019 by Anna Rothärmel

 

A feline and its superpower

Spotted hyena by day, cattle-saviour by night

Since the Lion King was released in 1994, spotted hyenas have been seen as vicious. To a certain extent this might be true, being regarded as the second most aggressive species next to humans. However, having a closer look reveals that these animals are not only fascinating, but also play a crucial role in Africa’s ecosystem.

Spotted hyenas (crocuta crocuta) live in packs and the ranking within such a pack is truly unique. A female, the matriarch, stands at the top. Ranked underneath are her cubs, other females and lastly the males. Ranking is a serious business and any hyena that wants to become part of the pack, must prove itself worthy. Without the females’ and matriarch’s approval, no hyena can join—if they had an anthem, it would probably be Beyonce’s “Who run the pack? Girls!”

But what's with the superpower?

Spotted hyenas are hunters rather than scavengers and just as any other carnivore they usually go for the easiest target, e. g. the old, the young or the sick. Let’s assume a wildebeest suffers from anthrax which it could transfer to other wildebeests causing an epidemic. The hyenas kill it and will survive since they have several types of antibodies in their blood-serum with the higher-ranking hyenas having even better immune systems. By killing this wildebeest, they stop the disease from spreading thus saving the lives of countless other animals. And since the spotted hyena is a nocturnal animal, it becomes a true cattle-saviour by night, thanks to its disease-defying superpower.

Not so bad of an animal as depicted in the Lion King, right?