History The early history of sapient hyenas is fragmentary. The relevant records form the time were spare, and there seems to have been little interest in preserving them during the Dark Ages, least of all from the hyenas themselves.
What is known is that sapient hyenas of the current era were derived from the spotted hyena (Crocuta Crocuta) in a project finished in the 300s AT. Spotted Hyenas would have been recognised as good candidate for early provolution. They are intelligent predators with a social structure more like primates than other carnivores, able to outperform even chimpanzees at co-operative problem solving.
Nevertheless, the project seems to have attracted less attention than contemporary attempts such as dolphins, elephants, dogs, pigs, parrots and corvids. There were a couple of 'Meet the Hyena' events in Cape Town, and later tours across bases of the African space elevators, to little fanfare. But most records point to problems afflicting the attempt.
The first was the birthing problem. Spotted hyenas are unique among mammals in that they lack a vaginal opening. Instead, females have an enlarged clitoris, through which they give copulate and give birth. Spotted hyena births are dangerous affairs, often leading to the death of the cub. For the early sapient hyenas, with the larger craniums, the issue was exacerbated. The early mortality rate exceeded 50%. The second problem, if it can be called such, was one of aggression. Spotted hyenas are a strong hierarchical, aggressive species. These traits were carried over into the Sapient Hyenas. Competitive infanticide was not unknown, and in the rare cases where twins were born, one cub would kill the other before they could be properly socialised.
The provolution team seems to have done little to fix either of these problems. Their comments indicate an authenticist bias. (Though many authenticist groups in the First Federation and after repudiate these actions.) The partial status of provolve rights and the relative obscurity of the project meant that these problems were left unsolved. (In fact, the Solarian Hyena gamewright Karesinda Calico often draws a link in her work between the birthing process and the troubled creation of the clade itself.)
In the years up to the Technocalypse, some sapient hyenas seem to have made it far as the Jovian League, but most remained on Earth up until the Great Expulsion. A single clan of Hyenas is known to have survived the technocalypse, alongside a majority human population in the isolated habitat Bultingin. Following contact with the First Federation in the 1000s, Hyenas expanded rapidly. Soon after, the Federal Institute of Provolution created a patch that muted some of their more aggressive tendencies and allowed vaginal birth. While most hyenas took advantage of safer birthing, reaction to the aggression fix was less popular.
During their isolation, the Hyenas had developed a strong sense of clade identity. In part, this was a reaction to the available media portrayals and their troubled creation. In what would later be a characteristic move, the Hyenas took the stereotype and, rather than trying to disprove it, adopted it. To be a Hyena was to be something almost unwanted by humans, an outcast, a disgusting animal. The aggression fix was seen by some of the Hyenas as an attempt to tame them — or, worse, to get rid of the "true" Hyena and replace with a human in another body. Those Hyenas who did take the patch were called as puppies and pets by those who didn't. The return bout of insults, though less savage, often followed the words of post-patch Hyena and senior FIP caseworker Mildred Crocuta: "An adolescent obsession with romanticised savagery."
Despite harsh words on both sides, there was never a true schism. Hyenas of both types across the solar system grew to live and work side-by-side. The patched still took delight in offending humans with their culinary habits, and the unpatched still reached positions of authority and happily offered civic service to the Federation.
Bone-Claw In 1550, the first Hyena colony world, Bone-Claw (Eta Cephei), was established. As civilisation expanded through the stars, the Hyenas diversified and cladised. Some no longer remotely resemble their ancestors, mentally or physical. And yet, the difference between patched and unpatched, the root schism of the Hyena clade, is still felt. Some groups — the autoauthenticists — have clung on to their identity as outsiders and true Hyenas; others have had their aggressive instincts removed entirely. The term "patched" has taken on a broader meaning, to include any Hyena modified to mute aggressive tendencies; meanwhile, "unpatched" refers to those who are aggressive, even if they are modified in other ways.
Today, they are found across the Sephirotics — the largest populations are in the Terran Federation, the Solar Dominion, the NoCoZo, and the FAS. Large communities can also be found exploring the Serpens frontier and the Hellfire expansion.
Description Sapient Hyenas resemble their ancestors, spotted hyenas: They have large, powerful forequarters, a sloping back, and relatively weaker hindquarters. The jaws are large and powerful, the ears are rounded, and the tail is short and stubby. They are slightly larger than spotted hyenas, and females are on average larger than males. Unmodified, females average a length of 2m, a shoulder height of 1.2m, and a mass of 92kg; males, a length of 1.8m, a shoulder height of 1m, and a mass of 76kg. In hierarchical societies, high-ranking Hyenas may modify themselves to increase their size. Some matriarchs have a shoulder height of 3m. Females have an enlarged clitoris as big as the male's penis. Compared to spotted hyenas, the head is proportionally larger, and there is a noticeable cranial bulge. The lips, and tongue are all considerably more dexterous, though these changes are not evident at a first glance.
It is common for Hyenas to dye their fur and mane. The designs can vary from enhanced versions of the natural spot patterning to a dizzying array of colours and shapes. The Hyenas of Skulk, Bone-Claw adopt a vivid expressionist pattern of red and black. The Hyena faithful on Fons Lumis combine gold, silver, and yellow fur with a a complex array of pendants and gauzy veils. Often the pattern serves the same purpose as clothes would: To express affiliation, social rank, and individuality.
Communication, Senses, Locomotion Baseline spotted hyenas have a broad array of vocalisations — whooping, grunting, lowing and whining. Rather than try and adapt their charges to human speech, the provolution team chose to expand this natural repertoire. The earliest language was simply "Hyena Afrikaans" (Afrikaans being the language of the provolution team) — keeping the grammar but pronounced differently. Since then, there have been hundreds of Hyena-only languages and Hyena variants of existing languages. Some calls can be heard from kilometres away, and these are often used as part of the vocabulary in a long-distance, abbreviated form of the language.
Body language is a huge part of Hyena communication. However, the Cutan family of Hyena languages take this a step further: Different postures are actually used to communicate grammatical case.
Hyenas have strong eyesight. Like their ancestors, they are nocturnal, and can see perfectly well in low light conditions. They have an extremely powerful sense of hearing, and are quite capable is picking up sounds from ten kilometres away given the right environment. Their sense of smell is also acute (though not as good as a dog's), and olfactory cues play a large role in communication. Many languages have an olfactory mode, in addition to spoken and written forms. Objects in Hyena habitats are often marked by scent. Hyenas naturally produce a strong smelling paste from their anal glands, and many in the current era have modified these glands to produce other scents. They may also supplement their scent with a wide variety of perfumes (which tend towards bitter, sour or musky smell). Being derived from endurance hunters, Hyenas can run for many kilometres without tiring. At a sprint, they can reach speeds of up to 50 km/h. They are, however, unable to climb.
Lifespan and Reproduction Hyenas are polygamous. The female chooses a suitor, and raises her cub alone. Paternity is usually considered irrelevant. Gestation takes seven months. The majority of Hyenas, unlike their ancestors, give vaginal birth. There remain a small proportion who give clitoral birth. With modern Sephirotic technology, the process is completely safe, though a few hardline autoauthenticist groups in the Outer Volumes take the difficulty and danger as a point of pride.
Females bare single cubs or — rarely — twins. Cubs are born with a full set of teeth and, if unpatched, are aggressive from birth. Twins of the same gender fight, sometimes to the death, and need to be separated for their own safety. For the first month of their life, cubs live in a private area with their mother. Thereafter, the mother begins to introduce them to communal areas where they meet their clanmates. Cubs reach sexual maturity around the age of ten. Adolescent females tend to remain in close contact with their mother (and in more traditional societies, inherit her rank) whereas males often break off contact with their home den.
The natural lifespan of a Sapient Hyena is only around 50 years. Though most use life extension technologies, there is a well-known (if not popular) mortalist streak in some Hyena cultures.
Environmental Requirements Hyenas are adapted to a standard Earthlike environment. Though they are capable of living in freefall, they generally prefer at least minimal gravity. (Microgravity-adapted subclades do exist, but are comparatively rare.) Conversely, given their endurance and strength, they can tolerate relatively high gravities. An unmodified Hyena will be comfortable in anything up to 2.5g.
They tend to prefer tropical temperatures and open, uncluttered environments, where sounds carries well and they can run without obstacle. However, for their sleeping quarters and homes, they tend to gravitate to more confined spaces, usually underground. They are nocturnal, and have little need of strong light to feel comfortable. In their habs, they usually forgo anything stronger than a dull twilight glow. Hyena habs tend to use of immense open spaces in continual darkness, filled with scents and the continual whooping and chattering of long-distance conversations.
The Hyena diet consists primarily of meat. They can eat over ten kg in a single sitting — generally, they eat every part of a meal, including the bones. Their digestive system is highly efficient, and can digest nearly all the organic material in a meal. Hyenas are famous for their strong stomachs: They have no problem eating or digesting putrified meat, or even some contaminated meat.
Psychology and Society Hyenas have a natural tendency to form hierarchies. Females tend to be more dominant than males. The usual social structure is the clan — a group of up to a hundred individuals sharing some communal facilities. In more complex societies, they adapt well to communes, corporations, and similar forms of social organisation. Social ceremonies are important — Hyenas who haven't seen one another for some time like to spend time catching up, and clans often hold parties.
While growing up in the right environment tends to mute the hierarchical and matriarchal tendencies — Hyenas in some cultures can be egalitarian and affectionate — a streak of dominance assertions tuns through all their behaviours. Even if not physically aggressive, in conversation they can be pugnacious. Their sense of humour tends towards the vindictive. Conversely, individuals who feel they are low-ranking, rightly or wrongly, can be very co-operative and eager to please.
The most distinctive aspect of dominance assertion is they often take insults on board as a point of pride. They may even try to live up to the insult, to throw it back in the face of whoever issued it. They can take an almost perverse pride in offending others — when called disgusting, for example, Hyenas often go out of their way to show off their more repellent habits. Some even take on the insults on as a name — in some polities, names suck as Mangy Bitch or Repulsive are common in some communities. Even among ostensibly friendly Hyenas, insults are common. Flyting — exchanging insults are one comes in close proximity — is a common cultural practice.
At the same time, they are extremely good at co-operative problem solving. In multi-clade organisations they rise quickly to positions of responsibility, and discharge their duties with pride. A clan of Hyenas working on the frontier can be astonishingly effective at working through whatever new and unexpected problems come their way. As nearbaseline Serpens Volume explorer Khayarl Y-Abbish said, "They're a bitch to get along with, but when you're facing post-transcension restriction swarm, there's no modo I'd rather have on my side."
Being pack hunters, Hyenas like co-operative challenges. Their hobbies are often competitive and centred around teamwork. They like sports — the playing field can be kilometres-wide, relying on endurance and effective long-distance communication. Also popular are group combat and hunting (simulated or real).
The sense of disgust in Hyenas is muted. They are quite comfortable with things other bionts may find repulsive. Ritual cannibalism is rarely frowned up. (They tend to find the Wup movement to be mildly adorable, but not particularly impressive.)
Being both hierarchical and co-operative, Hyenas, like baseline humans, can be vulnerable to fascism when creating their own polities. A few high-profile examples, such as the early history of Bone-Claw, have given them a bad name some parts of the Terragen sphere. However, the vast majority of Hyena polities are safe democracies or aicracies — even those on the frontier with no transapient oversight. (There is an interesting and subtle difference between baseline humans and Hyenas on this matter. Human fascism often declaims it ideology in terms of disgust. Hyena fascism almost never does, and is instead more openly expressed in terms of power and competence.)
The Current Era Diverging from the original aggression patch schism, Hyenas in the Current Era range across a wide spectrum. Some are openly and actively aggressive, taking part in hunts and fights, sometimes to the death (albeit backup proofed). Some retain the original aggressive instincts, but live in cultures that repudiate violence. And some, especially in the Utopia Sphere and Communion, have had almost all of their aggressive tendencies removed.
Hyenas show a strong preference for utilising abandoned infrastructure used by others. They are often seen in Ruderal communities. Several recolonisation efforts in the Serpens region are led by Hyenas. This trait is often mistakenly attributed to a "scavenging instinct". In fact, spotted hyenas are predators, not scavengers. The most likely hypothesis for this behaviour traces back to the denning behaviour of spotted hyenas — they often seek out dens created by other animals.
The rate of Hyena ascension is slightly higher than average. Often those at the first toposophic remain with their clan, sitting at the top of the hierarchy.
Text by Liam Jones
Initially published on 07 September 2017.