Hyenas may have been the bad guys in The Lion King, but Busch Gardens says the 20-week-old baby spotted hyena born at the park on April 3 is a sweet boy.
The baby hyena, debuting this week to park visitors, "is named 'Mandazi' for his sweet personality after a traditional pastry found on the Swahili coast," a park news release says. "The cub is healthy and being cared for by first-time mother, 8-year-old Taziki, who was also born at Busch Gardens. The 16-year-old sire, Makali, came to Busch Gardens in 2008 from the University of California Berkley's Hyena Project, which focuses on behavioral research."
Visitors to the Tampa theme park can see the baby hyena in the Edge of Africa area or on the Heart of Africa tour.
Hyenas aren't an endangered species, but their populations and habitats are shrinking in the wild due to issues like poaching, human conflict and habitat destruction, the park said. Mandazi's birth is part of Busch Gardens' partnership with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Species Survival Plan. The program oversees population management of select species within accredited zoos and aquariums and enhances conservation in the wild.
Although they have a rep as scavengers (and the stereotype thanks to Disney) spotted hyenas are excellent hunters, the park said.
"Typically more successful at hunting than other African predators, hyenas often have their prey items stolen by lions, rather than the other way around," the park said.
In fact, hyenas are particularly efficient predators since they are capable of digesting bones, horns and even the teeth of their prey.
Hyenas live in matriarchal social groups where females, weighing up to 165 pounds, are typically larger than the males.
Another myth: They are more closely related to a mongoose and cat than a dog.
Like other African carnivores, the park said, hyenas are important for the health of hoofed animal populations by weeding out the weak and sick as prey to keep the balance between the herds and their food resources.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @SharonKWn.