Indeed their rather ungainly appearance, scavenging nature and somewhat demonic laugh makes it easy to understand why they have been so brutally portrayed as the villain.
But if you spend some time getting to know these charismatic creatures, their unfaltering curiosity will quickly change any unwarranted preconceptions you may have and soon they will have you enchanted.
Two people who can vouch for this are scientists Gus and Margie Mills, and their new book Hyena Nights and Kalahari Days is just as enchanting as its subject matter.
The book is a beautiful tale of life and work in the Kalahari, as what started as a two-year study ended up a 12-year stay as Gus and Margie became more enveloped in the lives of the animals they studied.
Their book, like their research, dispels many misconceived myths about hyena behaviour born from the fact that very little was known about the elusive brown hyena.
Gus’s story is one of endless fascinating research, as during their study they got to know intimately the clans they followed and observed events very few will ever be privileged to witness. Margie’s tale relives the problems and pleasures of family life in the Kalahari.
Her section of the book beautifully illustrates that while it is easy to fall in love with the romantic vision of living and working in the Kalahari, living there is somewhat different.
This is a beautiful book and a must-read for anyone interested in the Kalahari. It allows the reader to understand the trials and triumphs of living and raising children in a remote desert wilderness, while working with these intriguing animals.
Any preconceived ideas of hyena will be blown out of the water, as the reader discovers for themselves what intelligent, powerful and beautiful animals, hyenas are.
By Dr Katy Johnson