The Origin and Varieties of the Domesticated Hyaena.

From an alternate history, where the Hyena was domesticated but not the Wolf.

Hyena Silhouette

Excerpts from a chapter in the Natural History of one

Armand d’Harcourt concerning the

Origin and Varieties of the Domesticated Hyena.

1688 A.D.

“There is no substitute for the cleverness, loyalty and versatility of the common household Hyena. To the hunter stalking deer in the Louisiana swamp, she is a faithful tracker and retriever. In the house, she is a beloved entertainer. With the right training she can be induced to bear weights, pull sleds, sing in choirs, fetch shot pigeons and snap up vermin. The mad cackle of the stouter breeds was a terror on the ancient battlefield. The gentle “who-op” of the more docile varieties is a delight to children. Among the shepherd communities, she serves as a resolute and brave sentry, watching over cattle and warding off wolves, bears and robbers. She is as much at home in the townhouses of London as she is in the sand-beaten tents of the Bedoueen.”

“The hyena is mentioned 42 times in the Bible. The book of Ecclesiastes asks: “What peace is there between a hyena and a wolf?” Indeed, for as long as one stalks cattle and the other is charged to protect it, they will be enemies. [..] The two are alike in so many ways, that I am often led to wonder why the wolf remained wild while the hyena was tamed. [..] In his report on the Huron Indians, Monsieur Champlain mentions that in some villages in America the practice of hand-feeding wolves is very common.”

“There is an Egyptian pillar that sits in the courtyard of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. This granite monument is covered from top to base in hieroglyphs. On one side can be seen many graven hyenas with drooping ears and heads bowed low before the leaning sceptre of Pharoah. Herodotus credits the Egyptians with having first domesticated the hyena […] From there it was introduced into Asia and Europe some eight centuries before the birth of Christ […] The hyena was unknown in the New World before the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. The hyenas of Cortes, no less than his guns and horses, were an object of terror to the Indians.”

Spotted hyena with skeleton.jpg

“… But in some corners of the world, the hyena is more of a menace than a pet. In Timbuktu, mongrel and half-wild tribes of hyena rove the streets, snatching food through windows, off of butcher’s hooks and from fruit stands. They are a nuisance. The Sultans of Mali ordered their extermination from the city on no less than six separate occasions – but this solution always proved short-lived: each time, within the course of a decade, they had repopulated the town and resumed their old patrols. The resilience of the Hyena is proverbial in the language of that country.”

“There are two types of wild Hyena: (1) a smaller and generally solitary kind, with black stripes along the legs and flanks, that lives in Asia and Africa and (2) a larger spotted species that runs in packs on the arid plains of southern Africa. In both behavior and morphology, the domestic hyena more closely resembles the spotted hyena.”

“A description of the wild spotted hyena comes to us in some detail from the pen of Pliny the Elder. I have here included two statements from the Natural History:

“Wild hyenas are found in Aethiopia, where they hunt antelope and have the appearance and mannerisms of wolves. They are also expert carrion-feeders and will keenly follow the flight path of a vulture to a fresh carcass.”

“When they hunt prey, they first attack the hind-legs and loins. When the underside is ripped open, a general frenzy ensues.”

In these descriptions we get a whiff of the famed brutality of the cacklehund, the stockiest and fiercest of all hyena breeds. Pitting criminals against hungry cacklehunds was an old staple in the gladiatorial matches of Rome. After the city was laid low in 64 AD by a great fire, the Emperor Nero punished several Christians on the charge of arson by delivering them to a team of cacklehunds in the fighting pits. They were consumed, bones and all. It is said that even the empty-headed pagan rabble that had gathered there to cheer was moved to pity and silence.”

“An adult Cacklehund stands at a shoulder-height of about 100 inches and is 175 inches in length. It has large,  bear-like forelimbs and a heavy-set frame. A purebred cacklehund does not have spots, even below the knees. They are shod in short, dense, deep brown fur. The mane is particularly hirsute. The cacklehund is best suited for guard duties, and for the pursuit of big game. Any experienced trainer will attest to their toughness. I have seen a cacklehund take on a bull four times its size, be gored in the leg and flank, and still emerge victorious. The cacklehund’s eyesight is particularly acute in the dark. In some parts of East Africa, village cacklehunds regularly defend their turf against wild hyenas, and are known to drive off small packs of them single-handed.”

“Though it was proscribed by Louis XIII, and a good many of his predecessors, the practice of hyena-fighting continues unabated in much of the French countryside. It is a shameful spectacle to see two cacklehunds doused in each other’s gore in one of those awful contests, with crowds baying all around them: “Blood! Blood! Blood!“”

“Some hyenid breeds are fond of swimming – most notable among them is the Persaki Fowler, which specializes in the ambush and pursuit of water birds, including geese and ducks. They are also excellent fishers. I know of villages in Tuscany where the diet of a family is frequently supplemented with river-fish caught and faithfully delivered to the kitchen by the household Persaki. The habit of storing food in pools of water is common to all hyena breeds (and observed even in their wild relatives), but reaches an obsessive height in the Fowler types. I know from experience that public pools and bathhouses in Paris are often made fetid with bits of meat plopped into water by stray Fowlers.”

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“The Cantonese Warbler is the most vocal of hyenas. The musical range of their squeals, grunts, giggles, cackles and howls is without compare in any other breed. In the Imperial Palace in China, Warblers are trained to produce specific sets of sounds in response to certain visual cues. Teams of them are made to sing melodies at daybreak under the direction of an orchestral conductor. This small, maneless breed from Asia is now a common sight in Versailles, where noble ladies and gentlemen have come to appreciate its calm domestic manner and sonorous morning call.”

“Graynas are the most athletic Hyenas. They have short, wiry fur and no mane, and long gracile legs built for endurance running. The origin of this breed is obscure, but our best records indicate that it was imported into Europe from Russia around the 14th century, when hyena-races were fast becoming a preferred pastime among the nobility.”

“The Barbary Jibba is the breed of choice among the Berber and Arab nomads of North Africa and Arabia. They can go without drinking for weeks and are have broad feet well suited for tracking across sand. The great slave caravans that snake across the Sahara to the slave-markets of Tunis and Algiers are often accompanied by trained gaggles of Jibbas. They are taught to pursue and topple fleeing slaves by nipping at the ankles. The Grand Turk in Constantinople possesses no less than forty of these animals, lodged and provided for in his enormous palace, and taken out to hunt in the mornings. Visitors have remarked that the Sultan’s estate is filled with the high-pitched yapping of his beloved Jibbas.”

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