Hyenas and the Lion King

Pamushana | August 2019

I recently went to see the new Lion King movie which differs from the original cartoon version with its photorealistic computer-generated imagery. It is a wonderful piece of entertainment and the technological wizardry is fantastic.

However, I was very disappointed to see that the hyenas who were portrayed as villainous goofballs in the original now get an even worse deal by being portrayed as filthy, mange-afflicted, smelly, revolting animals with terrifying mandibles and grotesque faces. (These adjectives taken directly from an opinion piece recently published in the Washington Post.)

I can tell you from personal experience that many guests arrive on safari with negative opinions about hyenas, and I am quite sure that the way hyenas are portrayed in the media influences this. Hyenas are fascinating animals and excellent strategic survivors. And if you want cute you should see a baby hyena cub! Hyenas are not the only ones who will kill other carnivores; lions will also kill the cubs of hyenas, cheetahs, leopards and their own kind if their natural instinct directs them to. Although everyone is entitled to their opinion, and mine appears here, media writers need to stop making villains out of wild animals and stop applying fictional traits to them. Hyenas are quite simply hyenas.

While I’m all for a good story and most good stories need a villain, I would have liked to see Disney put up a note/disclaimer, accompanied by a cute picture of a baby hyena, just before the drums roll on that gorgeous opening scene… It could have stated some facts about hyenas and explained that for the purpose of this movie they had been cast as the villains. Or, more realistically, it could have cast man as the villain of habitat destruction, over exploitation and wildlife decimation.

While I hope that no animals were harmed in the making of the Lion King, the reputation of hyenas certainly has been. Come on safari and let them change your mind.