I was showing Puttachi animals on Discovery yesterday. The programme was about the Wild Hunters in Africa, and I was keeping up a running commentary.
"Look!" I said, "Look how fast the leopard is running - there, it caught the deer..... Look at the leopard eating the deer..."
Just then a hyena entered the scene and tried to sneak away the leopard's kill.
"Look Puttachi!" I said, "That hyena is trying to steal the leopard's food. Should you take something that belongs to others? No! Bad, bad hyena!"
The hyena, however, did manage to snatch the kill away from the leopard, and went a few paces with it, before it was frightened by an elephant. The hyena dropped the kill and ran off, and the leopard retrieved it and dragged it up a tree to feast on it at leisure.
"Yay!" I said, "Look, the leopard got back its food. Serves the hyena right!"
On the screen, the hyena was then shown sauntering away. The voice-over in the programme then said, "The hyena lost her chance. She is on the lookout again. She needs to find food before the end of the day to feed her hungry cubs."
Zap! The entire perspective changed. The poor hyena was looking for food to feed her cubs. That's all. She was doing what she is best at doing - scavenging!
The screen then showed two little hyena cubs sniffing the ground, looking for scraps of food. A lump appeared in my throat.
The next scene was of the mother hyena loitering near a pride of lions. The lions were resting after a full meal, and the hyena was apparently trying to see if she could manage to get hold of something leftover from the meal. But unfortunately for her, she got too close to the lions for comfort. A male lion came across, pounced on her, and clamped his mouth on her throat. Her legs twitched for a while, and then she lay still.
The voice-over said, "The lions will not eat this hyena. She was just treated like a pest that had to be eliminated. With this, the lion took not one life, but three. The hyena's cubs cannot survive without her." And the camera showed the two forlorn little hyena cubs again.
I had to sit still for a moment - struck dumb. To the leopard, and then the lions, the hyena was an intruder, a pest. But the hyena, on her part, was doing what she had to do. She was looking for food for her cubs.
We are so quick to judge people, and to attribute negative characteristics to them. Who knows what instinct, what compulsion, or what pressing need they are acting under!
I think everybody deserves the benefit of doubt.