Friday, May 30, 2008

When art collides with conservation.

Striped Hyaena - IUCN Hyaena Specialist Group 
reputation is everything

In search of the aforementioned hyaena I stumble across a conservation site and am reminded that everyone from Hemmingway to Disney has given hyaenas a lousy image. It's not hard to see why, stories need conflict to propel them along and conflict is most dramatic when there is a good villain. 

I saw The Lion King on stage in London - the hyaenas were wonderful, they made great villains, slinking around in a pack, cunning, powerful, raffish and frightening. 

In reality, I learned that hyaenas are essential to the ecosystems they belong to, that one small Aardwolf hyaena eats termites, which would otherwise be hugely destructive. As scavengers they clean up the place and they have an amazing immune system which can withstand rabies and anthrax.

Most of the threat comes from habitat destruction and retaliatory killings when they've taken farmer's cattle. Hardly surprising that one! Imagine saying to your dog: I'm going to take your food away from you for a few days so you get really hungry. Then I'm going to leave this pink sausage on the floor right in front of your nose and I'm going to bed and you're NOT to eat it! 

I can feel a soapbox moment coming on so I'll get off it right now. But if you're interested in learning more click below the picture.

As an artist I'm left wondering where does my responsibility lie when using animals as characters in my books? I always do some research, but what I learn is usually about the individual animal, there is little about ecosystems. I already feel bad enough being part of the consuming human race - is it any wonder we need some villains to carry our shadows! - I hoped that at least in my art I could contribute to the appreciation of the natural world. Seems I may have to rethink my approach because as they say in conservation - reputation is everything.

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