Hyena overpopulation may have roots in reintroduction of wild dogs

15Dec 2018
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Hyena overpopulation may have roots in reintroduction of wild dogs

REPORTS from Arusha speak of rising anxiety on the part of Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) and Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) officials regarding a rising population of hyenas in the Ngorongoro Crater that could lead to a rapid extermination of calves of other animals.

The area with around 300 square meters in the crater has as astonishing number of hyenas, put at around 600. One result is that the cheetah, a far more valuable animal, is largely out of the Crater, incapable of competing with the crowding hunters/scavengers.

While the cause of the rising population of hyenas is still being sought for, as in ordinary terms they would have thinned out as well, either by hunting or deaths of litter for insufficient food, etc a line of speculation or reasoning is warranted. 

The line about cheetah leaving the crater area is helpful, namely that competing species can let one variety occupy space if the lesser group feels incapable of sorting out the competition. A man made error in the past would have created a situation where hyenas leave the Serengeti plains for rising numbers of wild dogs as it were.

This hypothesis arises because the more dreaded hunting species was nearly extinct in much of the plains and then out of ecological activism of sentimental protection of individual species as if the food base is unlimited, reintroduced wild dogs by a deliberate nurturing measure.

With this ‘foreign assistance’ to their survival and growth while other species are constrained, it isn’t surprising they now overwhelm kindred species, and they climb up the crater for safety and greater access to beasts of prey. The first measure would be to cull the hyenas, then go for the wild dogs.

Whether researchers at the Frankfurt Zoological Society and their allies may conduct research that drops the stone on their own feet is a different matter, but the point is that deforestation and ‘human’ (economic is a better term) activities sort of suggest that hunting species needing wide stretches of territory and tending to overproduce as they have no predators ought to be kept to a minimum.

That is why wild dogs should have been left where they were, as a stray species tourists may come across accidentally, giving a higher chance of litter and calves to survive despite that the wild dogs or hyenas in nature have their place in natural selection.

The culling they do takes away the weaker animals or calves and the remainder is stronger, less likely to contract minor epidemics, etc.

But when ecological balances aren’t those of green plains and thick grass, reintroducing wild dogs touches off a chain reaction of competition first among kindred species like hyenas, and then on the part of the hunted species.

But as avid evolutionists spend 90 per cent of their time thinking about predators, hardly shall one hear of this or that variety of say antelope being threatened with extinction. It is a failing we must learn to live with.