Fossil records reveal that more than 20 hyena species roamed the earth as recently as 10 million years ago but most of these species are now extinct. Currently, only four extant members of the carnivore Hyaenidae exist, the spotted, brown and striped hyenas, and aardwolves. Brown hyenas are only found in South Africa, while striped hyenas and aardwolves are widespread in East Africa. Because these animals are usually strictly nocturnal and forage alone, they are seldom seen.
By contrast, spotted hyenas, the largest and most gregarious of the extant hyenas, live in social groups or “clans”. They are the most adaptable of the large carnivores and biologists regard them as by far the most interesting carnivores and find that they can be quite lovable. They can equally be difficult to live with and are considered a costly nuisance to pastoralists. Their only threats are lions and humans. However, it is the human factor that is developing a worrying trend.
In the last two months, I have analyzed three incidents. First, on different occasions, six goats and a cow were killed by spotted hyenas inside human settlements. Their carcasses were poisoned with the pesticide carbofuran and two hyenas and a dog died after eating the tainted meat.
Then, a few weeks later, hyenas preyed upon three shoats and, once again, carbofuran was mixed with blood and placed on strategic paths resulting in the deaths of five hyenas and four vultures. And lastly, a cow that was giving birth was killed by hyenas, but on this occasion a pesticide called Bulldock was left on the carcass; luckily, nothing died. However, this retaliatory poisoning has the potential to indiscriminately kill any and all scavengers attracted to the bait.
Carbofuran, sold as Furadan, is an agricultural pesticide banned in the United States and Europe because of its toxicity. In Kenya, it has been used to exterminate large carnivores and vultures. It is no longer sold here, but people in southern Kenya are able to get it over the border in Tanzania. All committed conservationists should lobby for alternative eco-friendly pesticides for use in agriculture. I must admit that as a Maasai pastoralist, spotted hyena is not my favorite species and possibly misconceptions held by many people about hyenas represent a huge threat to their long-term survival. The spotted hyena is currently listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] as “Lower Risk”, and this species persists throughout much of its historic range, a fact attributed to its enormous behavioral and ecological adaptability. Despite their nuisance, they might prove useful as ‘sentinel’ or an effective ‘indicator’ species for monitoring critical components and overall health of African ecosystems.
Hyena facts presented in this post were cited from:
IUCN Hyaena Specialist Group website – http://www.hyaenidae.org/