Berkeley is full of surprises. Count me as a relative newcomer to the city (five years), but I had no idea there was a colony of hyenas in the Berkeley hills. They aren’t running wild, of course. They are part of the Berkeley Field Station for the Study of Behavior, Ecology and Reproduction. They’re the result of 20 infants brought here from Kenya in the 1980s by professors Laurence Frank and Steve Glickman.

The Berkeley hyenas are in the news because of fascinating research by Nicolas Mathevon, Aron Koralek, Mary Weldele, Glickman and Frederic Theunissen recently published in BMC Ecology. According to the research, the hyena’s laugh “can encode information about age, individual identity and dominant/subordinate status, providing cues to receivers that could enable assessment of the social position of an emitting individual”.

The researchers have now applied for a National Science Foundation grant to study hyenas in the wild in Africa. The idea is to expose wild hyenas to sounds from the Berkeley group to record reactions, and then do the same with wild hyena sounds from Africa in the Berkeley hyenas.

Photo by Arno & Louise from Flickr

Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...