Ep. 4/4: Can we change a Hyaenas spots? The #YearOfTheHyaena with Kevin Richardson

Welcome to the last episode of my chat with renowned Lion Whisperer, Kevin Richardson! After exploring Kevin's journey (Ep. 1), the canned hunting industry (Ep. 2), and lion conservation (Ep. 3), we're now diving into another important topic - the vilification of hyaenas.

📸 Shannon Wild


If someone asked for your thoughts on hyaenas, what would spring to mind? Scavengers? The bumbling hyaena trio from The Lion King? For most people, the words beautiful and intelligent are certainly not associated with hyaenas. But you look this hyaena pup in the eyes and tell me your heart doesn't melt. I dare you. Hyaenas are incredibly intelligent and social - they have a frontal cortex on par with primates and have even performed better at problem-solving and social cooperation tasks than chimpanzees!!!


Kevin Richardson's trying to get this message across to people around the world, and I was fortunate enough to chat to him about his efforts:

📸 Kevin Richardson


Josh: "I know you feel really strongly about this and I know you’ve done lots of exceptional education work to try promote hyaenas. I love your message, and also feel they’ve been misrepresented and vilified by the media, particularly films like the Lion King (even though I love the Lion King, it’s probably one of the reasons why I became a lion researcher).

But, what’s your close experience with hyaenas taught you about their real nature and what would you like to tell the public about them?"

Kevin: "Yeah, I think again it goes back to we will only conserve what we love - so we need to make people love hyaenas and not see them as these villains on the Lion King.

And it's not just the Lion King, there's many documentaries that were made in the 90’s and early 2000's. They just make such a good villain, I mean come on? Who’s a better villain than a hyaena?!

📸 Martin Harvey


It's about responsible marketing of hyaenas and I think unfortunately to this day, in many respects, many of the same organisations that criticise my hands-on work, are the same ones vilifying hyaenas in the next post but not seeing any wrongs in their ways.

📸 Kevin Richardson


So, humans are really funny creatures. You know, we're kind of so caught up in our own belief system that we can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to other things. And I was like that too. Honestly, when I started working with lions I hated hyenas. I thought hyenas were put on this planet to give lions a hard time - that's all. When I met hyenas for the first time, like lions, I started getting to know these creatures... I started to realise that they're a hell of a smart and intelligent animal, and all those myths and misconceptions were really not true.

📸 Kevin Richardson


I felt bad and I felt that I had a good platform to try and perpetuate a good narrative around these wonderful animals, and to show people around the world that all animals are wonderful. You know every animal has a place otherwise it wouldn't be here, evolutionarily. That goes for everything. Even down to mosquitoes, you know? It doesn't mean I like mosquitoes haha. But at the end of the day, hyenas have a place and I have noticed, again through my social media, that my close interactions have changed people’s perceptions.

📸 Kevin Richardson


I’ve got a following of people who are telling me I need to start a page called the hyaena whisperer, they say. This is nice to see. This is positive. These are positive messages and I love this because there is a growing community of hyaena lovers and they're putting people right. When people start talking down on hyaenas, they go ‘ah ah, wait a moment’, you know that hyaena is more like your dog in many respects, and a lion is like your cat.

So I called this year the year of the hyaena. I've got a mate, Kim Wolhuter, who’s a nutter. He’s living up in Zimbabwe and he's just so passionate about hyaenas. And we met up the other day and said you know what this year’s going to be the year of the hyaena! So let’s hashtag #YearOfTheHyaena."

Josh: "Ahh fantastic! So what are you doing for the year of the hyaena? How are you promoting this year?"

Kevin: "Just flooding people’s inbox's with feel-good positive messages about hyaenas. We’re showing them the good side, the nice side, the nurturing side. The fact that hyaena mothers are brilliant mothers! They nurture their kids till way past one year. Whereas, lions couldn't be bothered after a few months - like 'Dude, flipping stop sucking on my hind tits you must go now on your own' haha. They will protect their cubs with everything, with all their might.

📸 Martin Harvey


Any person who meets hyaenas and isn't converted after meeting them... you've gotta watch out for that person because there's something wrong with them haha. Anyone who gets to meet hyenas and see that quirky side of them are converted."

📸 Kevin Richardson

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© 2016 by Josh Robertson & Stefan Hunt