Lions aren’t the only carnivore affected by poison

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.

A poisoned Hyena
A poisoned Hyena

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 –

Holekamp, Kay E. (2010). “Spotted hyenas: Misunderstood indicators of ecosystem health”. Swara 2010:04 Oct/Dec



    It is truely staggering how much damage this one chemical is doing in so many countries to populations of both large predators and birds of prey – and not just in Africa!!

    Here in Europe huge numbers of endangered eagles continue to be wiped out by this long banned chemical everywhere from Spain to Scotland. Worryingly their appears to a be a never ending supply of it going on the number of seizures:(

    PS: By all accounts Vultures are in as much dire trouble from this menace as lions:(

  • sauwah says:

    remember 60 minutes also featured this poison and did interview the company. but its reporter did not pressure the company man about this poison’s widely use by many African countries like Tanzania. so big deal that kenya has officially bans this killer; but look at its neighbor? and why the reporter did not insist the manufacturer to make this poison smell so bad and taste so bad that no animal will want to lick any fruit and vegetables coated with such chemicals? and why they are selling to Africa and Africans while europeans and americans are not buying it?

  • lionguardians says:

    The 60 Minutes which aired in April 2009 and featured our parent organization, Living With Lions, did result in FMC, the manufacturer of Furadan, withdrawing the poison from the Kenyan market the day after the 60 Minute segment was shown. This was a huge victory for Living With Lions and Lion Guardians. And yes – we fully agree with Sauwah that they should withdraw it from all of Africa.

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