Brooklyn Hyena and Out of Place Animals

The little blue dot was us, on the bus, and the red dot is where the hyena was spotted

The phenomenon of out of place animals is an interesting sub-genre of cryptozoology and Forteana, but not one that I am usually drawn to, with few exceptions. I think it’s safe to say that creatures like Bigfoot, Mothman, the Jersey Devil, the Loch Ness monster, and the Dover Demon are far more intriguing than a potentially escaped circus animal. But in most cases, out of place animal sightings usually can’t be explained by escaped circus animals or exotic pets.

Take, for example, my personal favorite out of place animal, a small elephant that was sighted in my hometown of Brooklyn, New York. The pygmy pachyderm was spotted roaming Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, back in May of 1979. Bay Ridge isn’t exactly known as a big circus town, and I don’t think many people keep baby elephants as pets, exotic as an elephant would be. Obviously the elephant was never captured, but what was it? A hallucination? A misidentification of another animal? New York is home to the infamous urban legend about alligators in the sewers, but as far as I know, it’s not really elephant country.

Many out of place animals are simply animals that are thought to be extinct, such as the Tasmanian tiger (or thylacine), or the North American mountain lion or cougar, though both species are still seen quite often. Of course, maybe these animals aren’t completely extinct, and small numbers of them still survive in small numbers, hiding from most of us. Not paranormal, but still pretty cool if true.

I bring this all up because last week, my wife was perusing her Citizen app, as she does on most of our commutes. Citizen is an app that alerts the user to crimes and emergencies in the area. It’s only available in New York City and San Francisco at the moment, and only for iOS devices. Anyway, she noticed an unusual alert on our Wednesday morning commute: a hyena had been spotted in Brooklyn. Now, I realize that in all likelihood, this was simply a misidentification of a dog. We get lots of unusual and unintentionally funny alerts from Citizen (naked person yelling on the subway, man fighting with a raccoon, an opossum on the rampage, etc), and we figured this was either a prank or a well-intentioned but very confused citizen who thought they were alerting the police to a hyena on the loose.

I have waited a few days to post this, mainly because I’ve been busy, but I also wanted to see if there was any follow-up. But as of today, there have been no updates, no hyenas captured in Brooklyn, nobody reporting their lost pet hyena, and no circuses who are a little light in their inventory of animals. My guess is that it was just a mean-looking stray dog, a species that is indigenous to Brooklyn.

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