ActHaving become insolvent, Heinz von Friesenhahn, of noble descent, ended up in the circus but remained ambitious and, in collaboration with an expert at the Hegenbeck Zoo, insisted on building a pack of spotted hyenas into a circus act. This was an exclusive. Experts said that no one had ever managed to get hyenas to perform
This turned out to be untrue. The animals Heinz von Friesenhahn acquired from Tanzania were particularly easy to train. They were not especially trusting. But they responded to rewards. Von Friesenhahn was a pupil of the famous animal trainer Kuliakov. According to Kuliakov, success in training depends on three factors: that the animals are capable of learning; that they respond to rewards; and that the temperament of the animal trainer is so steady that the rewards and the demands made of the animals are well gauged.
And so von Friesenhahn set about his training. Audiences in Europe and the USA saw hyenas as ugly, sly creatures. This prejudice could not be overcome quickly. Von Friesenhahn found the animals endearing and they responded to him and pounced on their rewards.
After six months, Heinz von Friesenhahn had lost both forearms to hyena bites. He was still of the opinion that the animals were not aggressive. He blamed himself for not being careful enough. One had to keep one's eyes constantly trained on the snapping mouths, the gaping jaws. First they snap shut and then they think. He had mistaken the animals' ability to learn and their devotion to his rewards for sympathy.
--- In a nutshell, he failed because the performances he had thought up were not suitable for hyenas.
--- Yes, they were meant to jump through burning tires, sit on pedestals, climb on top of one another. Hyenas don't like to do that sort of thing.
--- What kind of acts should he have developed?
--- Three Hyenas Drive a Lioness Away from her Prey. That would have been an authentic and natural performance in the circus tent...
--- Do you think that hyenas are so easily trained but only precisely in the sense that they can only be made to do what they'd do in the wild?
---- Exactly, but that's what Heinz von Friesenhahn didn't understand.
--- Does he still have a chance as a hyena trainer without forearms? He has, after all, understood his mistake in the meantime.
--- Without a doubt. He uses his eyes. And he also knows now that he only has to watch out for their jaws, nothing else.
---- What can he do if they bite?
--- They can hardly bite if he keeps his distance. At least they can't get his forearms anymore.--- From Cinema Stories
©2007 New Directions Books