Humans and Hyenas examines the origins and development of the relationship between the two to present an accurate and realistic picture of the hyena and its interactions with people. The hyena is one of the most maligned, misrepresented and defamed mammals. It is still, despite decades of research-led knowledge, seen as a skulking, cowardly scavenger rather than a successful hunter with complex family and communal systems.
Hyenas are portrayed as sex-shifting deviants, grave robbers and attackers of children in everything from African folk tales through Greek and Roman accounts of animal life, to Disney's The Lion King depicting hyenas with a lack of respect and disgust, despite the reality of their behaviour and social structures. Combining the personal, in-depth mining of scientific papers about the three main species and historical accounts, Keith Somerville delves into our relationship with hyenas from the earliest records from millennia ago, through the accounts by colonisers, to contemporary coexistence, where hyenas and humans are forced into ever closer proximity due to shrinking habitats and loss of prey. Are hyenas fated to retain their bad image or can their amazing ability to adapt to humans more successfully than lions and other predators lead to a shift in perspective?
This book will be of great interest to students and scholars in the environmental sciences, conservation biology, and wildlife and conservation issues.
1 Dramatis Personae: The spotted, striped and brown hyenas
2 Humans and hyenas from the Pleistocene to the Holocene
3 Humans and hyenas in Africa to 1600CE
4 Humans and hyenas in West, Central and South Asia to 1600CE
5 Humans and hyenas from 1600CE to the end of the 19th century
6 Persecution increases under colonial rule
7 Contemporary Africa, West, Central and South Asia
8 Myths and representations from early humans to The Lion King
Keith Somerville is a member of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, UK, where he is a professor at the Centre for Journalism. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, a Fellow of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and a Member of the IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group.
"With this volume, Keith Somerville has produced the definitive history of the tortured relationship between Homo sapiens and the Hyaenidae, his exhaustive research documenting our mutual history from the distant Pleistocene past to today's headlines and latest scientific studies. Prof. Somerville's history of the hyena–human relationship documents the decline of three species in excruciating detail, a scholarly case study of the devastating impact the too-intelligent ape has had on the species with which it shares the planet; there are millions of similar stories as life on earth is crushed beneath eight billion humans. This volume joins his previous ones on the destruction of elephants and lions, clarion calls for humanity to wake up, grow up, and assume responsibility for repairing the destruction it has wrought."
– Dr Laurence G. Frank, Living with Lions Project Director and research associate in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California, Berkeley
"In his new book Humans and Hyenas: Monster or Misunderstood, Keith Somerville aims to repair the predator's undeserved reputation in human eyes [...] Somerville uncovers the roots of the misconceptions around the three species of hyena – the striped, spotted and brown – and makes a compelling case for the cause of their conservation [...] this stands as a definitive work on hyenas and the historical journey they have taken with humans during the Anthropocene. It is an indispensable resource for anyone with an interest in hyenas."
– Ed Stoddard, Maverick Life