Heinous Hyena

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Hyenas are frequently portrayed as evil in fiction. Sometimes they are often depicted as either insane Ax-Crazy sadists, as stupid Dirty Cowards, as a horrific Monster Clown, or as the occasional Terrible Trio. The majority of the time, however, they're depicted as dirty, smelly Villainous Gluttons. These hyenas also have a fondness for laughing and a fear (and hatred) of lions.

How many times have you seen a good hyena in fiction? None? Very few? That's because of this trope. Thankfully, there have been subversions and aversions of this trope in recent years, even though it is still somewhat rare. This trope does not only apply to actual hyenas, but humans or other creatures that use hyena symbolism; comparing a character with an unpleasant laugh to a hyena is particularly common in fiction.

Fictional hyenas are mostly spotted hyenas; striped and brown hyenas are much, much rarer, and aardwolves (a purely insect-eating species) are still practically unheard of. Although when these other species do appear, they aren't always portrayed as negatively as the spotted hyena.

Subtrope of Scavengers Are Scum, because hyenas are often portrayed as scavengers. (In Real Life, actual [spotted] hyenas are mostly hunters.) Contrast King of Beasts (hyenas are often made out as the Unpleasant Animal Counterpart to lions). Compare The Hyena, which is a character who's constantly laughing (and who may or may not be a literal hyena).

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Harley Quinn has traditionally kept a pair of hyenas named Bud and Lou (after Abbott and Costello), which she has used in the dual role of personal pets and attack animals. These two hyenas sometimes accompany Harley during a brazen heist to keep the hostages/customers/incidentals at bay. Nosy goofballs throw Harley off her groove, y'know?

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the live-action film The Jungle Book: Mowgli's Story, Tabaqui is (yet again) portrayed as a hyena (specifically, a spotted hyena despite the species not being native to India.
  • It's easily missed, but in the film adaption of The Chronicles of Narnia spotted hyenas are in the crowd surrounding Aslan during his death along with many of the other evil species ruled by Jadis that plagued Narnia at the time, such as wolves, ghouls, black bearded dwarfs, and harpies. It can be assumed they served in her army as well.

    Literature 
  • In The Island of Doctor Moreau, the nastiest of the Beast Folk was created from a hyena and a pig.
  • In the Earth's Children series Ayla has a strong aversion to hyenas, ever since a hyena grabbed a baby during a mammoth hunt. She sees hyenas as scum and will never allow a hyena around. She is otherwise a Friend to All Living Things (even those she kills for food).
  • Averted Trope in the children's book Pinduli, which is one of the few sympathetic depictions of hyenas. The protagonist is a young hyena who gets teased by other animals because of her looks. The book also lists various facts about hyenas at the end. This book was written by Janell Cannon, the author of a number of other books about unpopular animals, including Stellaluna (about a bat), Virdi (about a snake), and Crickwing (about a cockroach).
  • The Lost World 1997 goes out of its way to avert this in the scene that introduces Sarah Harding, in which shemakes a speech about all of the problems with this trope.
  • There is a very obscure The Lion King tie in book with a friendly heroic female hyena that befriends Kopa (a now non-canon son of Simba that was dropped without [official] explanation) and meets his parents at the end. There is a similar character (possible Expy) in The Lion Guard.
  • Mostly averted with Barbs, the zoo hyena in The Last Dogs. The most antagonistic thing she does is laugh at inappropriate times, but she seems like a decent hyena, even willing to share food with the dogs. The red panda sisters seem to think this is played straight, though, always saying that she's nasty or ugly.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The crocotta is a vicious mythical animal from Roman and Medieval bestiaries and accounts, said to inhabit subsaharan Africa, India or both and resemble a monstrous doglike or wolflike animal. It was reputed to have a single ridge of bone in each jaw rather than teeth, to dig up and eat human corpses and to switch genders every year. Its most notable characteristic was its ability to imitate human voices, an ability it used to lure humans and dogs out of their homes and into the wilderness. Those who answered its calls were set upon by the beast and viciously torn to pieces. There was a similar creature called the leucrocotta, which had much the same appearance and attributes, but also had hooves and was reputed to be an extremely swift runner. It is generally agreed that the creature was inspired by real life accounts of hyenas, which do indeed produce human-like vocalizations (such as their famous "laughter") and whose genders are notoriously difficult to tell apart (female hyenas are bigger than the males, in the inverse of how it usually works for mammals, and most notably their sexual organs resemble those of mammal males far more than they resemble those of other female mammals). The scientific name of the spotted hyena, Crocuta crocuta, was directly inspired by the mythical crocotta.
  • In many African — especially West African — traditions, hyenas do not exactly enjoy a stellar reputation. They are often associated with a great variety of negative traits (exactly which ones often depends on the culture and tradition in question), including deviousness, brutishness, immorality, gluttony, subversive and unwholesome behavior and filthiness.
    • At least one myth, from the Tanzanian Gogo people, blames hyenas for human mortality: according to the myth, humans were originally supposed to be made immortal, but a hyena kept this from happening to ensure it would always have plenty of corpses to eat.
    • Hyenas are also associated with evil magic. They are often paired with witches: in the folklore of the Mbugwe people of Tanzania, for instance, all hyenas are considered to be under the control of witches, who keep them as familiars, milk them and use them as mounts. Other traditions include shapeshifting werehyenas, creatures often considered evil and wicked.
    • This has spread beyond the native animistic religions: the Christian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Ethiopia uses hyenas to symbolize criminal behavior and sexual deviancy.
    • This is, however, averted in a number of other traditions which see hyenas in a more positive light. For example, the mythology of the Lungu people credits a hyena with bringing the sun — and, consequently, warmth and life — to a previously cold and barren Earth.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Gnolls are monstrous humanoids resembling hyenas that were originally created by the demon lord Yeenoghu. Exactly how straight this trope is played depends on the setting and ruleset used: many settings have Gnolls being mostly evil but with occasional non-evil gnoll societies, and in 3rd edition Eberron non-evil gnolls are the default, while in 5th edition, gnolls are Always Chaotic Evil and possess a mindset similar to demons, with nothing resembling a conscience and no easy way to get them to curb their destructive tendencies.
  • Pathfinder:
    • D&D's gnolls return in this game as hulking humanoid hyenas known for their tremendous slothfulness and horrific savagery, with lifestyles centered chiefly on raiding other people for food, supplies and slaves. Most worship Lamashtu, the Chaotic Evil Mother of Monsters. That said, they are also noted to have some positive qualities: they are immensely loyal to their packs, and never war against or enslave other gnolls.
    • Yaenits are a kind of demons in the shape of six-feet-tall, hyena-headed humanoids who serve Lamashtu and live to main and kill in their goddess' name. Mortal gnolls worship them as incarnations of Lamashtu's will and strive to be like them, and a good deal of yaenits start out as the souls of particularly evil gnolls.

    Video Games 
  • Out of the various Beast Man species that populate the WarCraft universe, the gnoll (humanoid hyenas) are one of the least noble ones.
  • Pokémon: The two Pokemon based on hyenas (Poochyena and Mightyena) are pure Dark-type, the type most associated with amoral and underhanded behavior (and outright called the "Evil-type" in Japanese). Their personalities also fit — the Pokédex describes Poochyena as both very aggressive (as it will take a bite out of anything that moves) and cowardly (it will run away as soon as the prey strikes back), although this is dropped when it evolves. The intro to Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire and their remakes also has the player rescue Professor Birch from a vicious pack of wild Poochyenas who attacked him. They're also regularly used by members of the various evil teams, such as Team Aqua, Team Magma, and Team Flare.

    Web Comics 
  • Archipelago: Kurr the were-hyena is a dull-witted brute with a taste for both humans and other were-beasts and is a member of the Ravens.
  • Muhammad al-Aziz in Better Days is an anthropomorphic hyena with a very long rap sheet. However, in the setting as a whole, hyenas aren't portrayed as inherently worse than any other species. Many hyena characters are nice and sympathetic.
  • Subverted by the anthropomorphic hyenas in Digger: the first group that Digger encounters have no qualms about targeting her for a Sapient Eat Sapient lunch, but she later befriends the tribe and finds them to be staunch allies. She's also close fiends with Ed, who was Too Good for This Sinful Earth.

    Web Original 
  • Orion's Arm: Sapient spotted hyenas are one the many kinds of Uplifted Animals among the Terragen civilizations. While not evil, as such, they are noted to be very aggressive and competitive compared to other sapients, something carried over from their non-sapient ancestors. As such, they have long-standing problems with conflicts with both each other and other sapients, as well as recurring issues of fratricide among their young before they can be properly socialized.
    • As they developed as a people in their own right, they ended up consciously embracing the stereotypes of this trope: while neurological and biological modifications were available to dampen their aggressive tendencies, the sapient hyenas saw these as anthropocentric attempts to erase their identity as a species and turn them into yet another clade of humans in animal bodies. As such, most sapient hyenas ended up celebrating their status as aggressive outcasts and pariahs unwanted by mainstream civilization. Of course, many hyenas did choose to take the behavioral modifications, and considered the hyenas still enamored with this trope to be backward savages obsessed with glorifying violence.
    • Overall, sapient hyenas in the setting's present have tendency to live in highly hierarchical matriarchies, to have personalities tending to being aggressive and vindictive and to spend a great deal of time jockeying for position amongst each other, although they are also highly social and cooperative. Notable hyenas in the galaxy include the inhabitants of Skulk, a gas giant dotted with floating habitats home to hyena clans, which were unified by a hyena matriarch named Belligerence in a bloody power grab. Some centuries in the past there was also a band of mercenary humanoid hyena cyborgs that rose to infamy when they attacked a peaceful habitat with maser weaponry, boarded it with several containers of salt and spices and devoured the soft-boiled bodies of its inhabitants over the course of a three-day feast.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series introduced both Harley Quinn and her aforementioned nasty hyena pets, Bud and Lou.
  • Bud and Lou also appear as recurring antagonists in Krypto the Superdog, although in this show they belong to The Joker instead of Harley.
  • The Nasty Hyenas in the Sonic SatAM episode, Fed Up With Antoine/Ghost Busted, are a biker gang who who come from a cannibalistic tribe who always eat their king.
  • The Lion Guard:
    • Zigzagged. A group of hyenas are the villains in the pilot and become recurring antagonists in the series; they are portrayed as thuggish and malevolent. However, a hyena named Jasiri mentions that hyenas serve as scavengers in the Circle of Life and tells Kion that not all hyenas are bad, and Kion and the Guard become close friends with a group of "good" hyenas (including Jasiri).
    • At least two of Janja's clan members are actually decent when he's not around to order them to do bad things. One episode has him (temporarily) banish them from his clan, and Kion says they are allowed to stay in the Pride Lands as long as they don't cause trouble. They agree to this, and keep their word.
    • All the aardwolves (a small species of hyena) that appear in the show are "good." In fact, this trope is a plot point in their initial appearance, since they get mistaken for the "bad" spotted hyenas and chased out of the Pridelands by the Guard. As aardwolves are insectivores, they are exempt from the Scavengers Are Scum stereotype associated with hyenas.
    • Jasiri notably has been very well received by fans (even general Lion King fans that otherwise hate or dislike The Lion Guard), specifically for being kind and portrayed positively, showing many people are getting tired of this trope.
  • In Gargoyles, one of the most depraved members of the animal-themed mercenary group The Pack is named Hyena (according to Word of God she's a psychopath).
  • Harchi the hyena from Oscars Oasis is part of a villainous trio that tries to eat Oscar.
  • Zig from Zig & Sharko is an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain who keeps trying to eat a mermaid. No, really.
  • Zig-zagged in one episode of The Wild Thornberrys. Eliza meets a spotted hyena who is pretty friendly, thus averting this trope, but the hyena had lived his whole life in a cage at a gas station and did not gain natural instincts as a result. Eliza finds this out when the hyena is unable to survive in the wild after freeing him, so she offers to teach him how to be a ferocious predator. This trope is played straight with the first clan of hyenas the group encounters, who are all hostile and violently attack the friendly hyena, albeit for territorial reasons. The second clan ends up subverting this when they allow the hyena to join them, due to him sharing the same scent as them.
  • In The OWCA Files (the de facto Grand Finale of Phineas and Ferb), one of Perry's new teammates happens to be a hyena - going with the cliche of constantly laughing but otherwise an aversion of the usual stereotype.

     Real Life 
  • The biggest reasons why hyenas are portrayed as evil in fiction so much is probably because of their ugly appearance, the widespread dislike of them, and outright myths, rather than reality, as other loved predators such as dogs, wolves, and big cats do the exact same things hyenas are despised for, yet no one seems to despise them the same way. For example, they are often portrayed as stealing from lions, but if you actually look the numbers up lions steal more kills from them than vice versa, and eat carrion more often compared to hyenas, which are statistically more successful hunters than they are (that is, hyenas' hunts end with a successful kill more frequently than lions do). They are also thought of as stupid, when they are actually very intelligent animals. And they get accused of being cowardly for running away from lions, when any animal with a bit of sense would do the same thing. But, nobody cares or knows about any of this because they have the misfortune of looking thuggish and awkward.
  • In a real life aversion of this trope, an African wild dog that had lost its pack was lonely enough it bonded with a clan of hyenas (it also helped a family of jackals raise their pups — as said, this was a very lonely animal that was completely isolated from others of its species). This is interesting because the two species usually will kill or steal from each other when given the chance, and Interspecies Friendships are very rare in general in the wild. This is shown in the documentary Solo: The Wild Dog.
  • "Lion Whisperer" Kevin Richardson, despite the title and his love of lions, is also very fond of hyenas, and works to change public opinion about them. This involves actually going into the enclosure and interacting with them, petting and playing with them despite the danger of working with wild animals like these.
  • There are videos on YouTube of hyenas sharing kills with lions, although these are probably uneasy truces caused by neither party being willing to risk injury in a fight rather than anything truly heartwarming.

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