The striped hyena roams a very large, patchy range stretching from northern Africa through the Middle East to India. Biologists estimate 5,000 to 14,000 individuals exist today in the wild. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), major reasons for the animals’ decline include persecution (especially poisoning) by humans, decreasing sources of carrion due to declines in the populations of other large carnivores (wolves, cheetahs, leopards, lions and tigers) and their prey, and changes in livestock practices.
“Humans are consistently indicated as the major source of mortality…largely because the [hyena] is loathed as a grave robber, and because of incidents of damage to agriculture…and livestock,” reports the IUCN. Also taking a toll is illegal hunting for striped hyena skins and body parts for use in traditional medicine.
Meanwhile, only 5,000 to 8,000 Brown hyenas today roam parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The brown hyena is relatively safe in protected areas, but clashes with humans elsewhere have taken their toll. The IUCN reports that negative attitudes toward brown hyenas prevail across South Africa and elsewhere, with many ranchers and farmers shooting, poisoning, trapping and hunting them with dogs. The UK-based Predator Conservation Trust has established the Brown Hyena Research Project to help form strategies to promote the long-term survival of the species and its southern Africa habitat.
As many as 47,000 spotted hyenas live in sub-Saharan Africa. They suffer similar forms of persecution as other hyenas but have fared better due to their ability to adapt to life in proximity to humans.
The IUCN’s Hyena Specialist Group focuses on developing hyena conservation strategies worldwide through integrated research and public education to change attitudes toward these much maligned animals. Conservationists underscore the importance of preserving hyenas because, if for no other reason, we can learn much from them. For one, hyenas possess unique immune systems that allow them to withstand diseases that kill other animals. “Only if hyenas are available to study will we be able to unravel the mysteries of their immune responses,” reports IUCN.
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