For Immediate Release
Distributed July 1999
The Myth-Understood Hyena
At the beginning of July, Caribbean Gardens, the zoo in Naples, welcomed two new carnivores from Buffalo Zoological Gardens into the growing zoo family in Naples. Largest member of the hyena family, the spotted hyenas -- also known as the laughing hyenas -- are now settled into their new exhibit. Caribbean Gardens is one of less than two dozen zoos in America to house these spotted predators. And now that they've arrived, we'd like to clear up a few myths about these much-maligned creatures. In fact, just about everything we know about hyenas is mostly wrong.
Myth One: Hyenas are scavengers.
Yes, but only if your definition of scavenger includes lions, too. In certain areas, lions steal more kills from hyenas than vice versa. Hyenas are Africa's second largest predator capable of killing prey three times their own weight. Only an average of 5% to 30% of their diet is scavenged. The rest they get the hard way.
Myth Two: Hyenas laugh.
To start off with, whatever you call it, it's not a happy sound. They do make a call resembling a human laugh, if a Vincent Price style chuckle could be called a laugh. As adventure writer Peter Hathaway Capstick recalls from his years on the veldt, it sounds like "a mad woman slowly being sawed in half without anaesthetic." This insane laughing or what zoologists call "giggling" is typically emitted by a hyena being chased, usually by a lion. It expresses intense fear or anxious excitement. Other animals know that when they hear a lot of laughing, that usually means that hyenas have a kill. So other hyenas or lions wander in hoping to fill their stomachs. In Africa, if you play a recording of the hyena laugh, hyenas often show up out of nowhere.
Myth Three: With that skulking walk, they've got to be slow.
They do have a skulking kind of walk. In fact, one of the old African myths says that they have that slanted shape with the high shoulders and low back because witches rode around on them. As for speed, however, they are the long-distance runners with a sprinter's heart. Hyenas can lope along tirelessly at 6 mph, gallop 25 to 30 mph for at least two miles, and rush at top speed of about 37 mph. You can't wear them out or outrun them. Be glad you're not a zebra with a Serengeti address.
Myth Four: If they do hunt, they gather in large numbers to do it.
Definitely not. Although they live in clans up to 80 strong, most hunting, like most foraging, is done alone. About the only time that clan members deliberately set off in packs is to hunt specific quarry, usually zebras. And even here, what look like a pack hunt often began as chases by one or two hyenas that attracted other hyenas to join in as they passed by. After all, if you've been running for a few miles, you're bound to have passed a few friends.
Come see the new spotted hyenas for yourself. Their exhibit, formerly home to the western cougars who recently moved into their new exhibit, is newly renovated and can be seen on the way to the Primate Expedition Cruise dock.
Caribbean Gardens is a 52-acre botanical and zoological preserve located at 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road in Naples. In addition to the historical plantings that date as early as 1919, the Gardens feature a variety of zoological exhibits including big cats, kangaroos, birds, alligators, and other unusual animals. A variety of innovative presentations are offered all day including the live animal/multimedia presentation known as Safari Canyon. Small colonies of monkeys, lemurs, and apes live in natural habitats on the islands visited by the Primate Expedition Cruise. The garden is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Although you can enter as late as 4:30 p.m., the zoo recommends an early arrival to enjoy all their activities. You can visit the zoo on the Internet and learn more about their plants and animals at www.caribbeangardens.com.
Caribbean Gardens 1590 Goodlette-Frank Road Naples Florida 34102 ZooLine: 941.262.5409 www.caribbeangardens.com
# # # # #
If you are a member of the media and would like to receive future releases, please e-mail Tim Tetzlaff at email@example.com