Animal Studies Journal


The hyena has been depicted as a villain for millennia, with examples spanning from ancient European texts to today’s popular culture. In the past 30 years, especially, catalysed by Disney’s The Lion King, the hyena-as-villain has been cycled throughout various media. By taking a critical animal studies approach to analysing Western media content depicting hyenas, specifically the spotted hyena, I theorize the implications of morally othering hyenas such that they are rendered killable, which relegates them relative to other species-specific conservation concerns. Hyenas are vilified in part through misrepresentations of their actual ecological roles, the biopolitical ramifications of which are discussed. Hyena conservationists have long argued that shifting negative attitudes about hyenas is paramount to conserving them; beyond quantifiable conservation-minded objectives, there is a moral impetus to eliminate suffering and provide for the welfare and quality of life for individual hyenas. Rather than dismissing caricatures of hyenas as harmless, we must acknowledge that fictional representations of hyenas do not exist in isolation from actual hyenas and their lifeworlds.