Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in conjunction with Born Free Foundation (BFF) is in the process of rehabilitating two stripped hyena cubs rescued in Kangeta area, 45 kilometers from Meru National Park in April this year.
The mother of the two was allegedly responsible for several livestock attacks in the area , provoking a series of human-wildlife conflicts.The two; a male and a female christened Victor and Victoria, respectively, were received in the Nairobi Animal Orphanage from Meru National Park on April 13, 2016. They were estimated to be three weeks of age when received.
The stripped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is among the near threatened species listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). On this basis and in line with BFF’s principle that every individual animal counts, it decided to support the idea of temporarily transporting the cubs to Nairobi for specialized care and subsequent release/rehabilitation to Meru National Park.
Care in the Animal Nursery
When received at the Orphanage, Victor weighed about 1.2 Kg and Victoria about 1.3 Kg. They were fed on commercially processed cow milk at a rate of 70 mls per cub which was progressively increased as they grew. They had no difficulties in recognizing milk and milk bottles during feeding.
They were introduced to minced meat on May 19, 2016 when they were about one month old and later meat on bone on October 6, 2016 at the age of about 9 months. Current feeding regime comprises of 1.5 Kg meat on bone and 500 mls of commercially processed cow milk per cub.
The cubs have been in good health throughout the nurturing process. The only problem on arrival was infestation with fleas which was managed using topical Frontline® application soon after arrival. The problem has not been observed thereafter. They were docile on arrival until July 26, 2016, when they started being active and aggressive particularly during feeding when they could even bite the care givers.
Transport to Meru National Park
The stripped hyena is listed among the near threatened species by IUCN because of considerable decline in wild living populations attributed to incidental or deliberate persecution during conflicts with humans coupled with a consistent decline in prey numbers.
With the support of the BFF, an attempt will be made to rehabilitate the two cubs back to Meru National Park so as to promote conservation of the species in their natural habitat.
Stripped hyenas are primarily scavengers of a variety of vertebrates and invertebrates remains but also hunt small animals often supplemented with fruits and occasionally forage on garbage from human settlements. Hyenas often forage solitary at night but may lie resting in pairs or groups of up to four individuals, although such groups never have more than one adult. It is hoped that the rehabilitation process will be successful given their feeding behaviours and that they will not predate on livestock.
In the wild, cubs are weaned at an age of two months after which they are fed by both parents but the mother nurses them for about one year. The cubs join their mothers on their hunting and foraging activities at an average age of one year.
The rehabilitation will start at an approximate age of 10 months and it is hoped that by the time they are one year old, when they get weaned in the natural setting, they will have learnt to fend for themselves as well as learn to avoid other competing species. The proposed rehabilitation process will entail the following:
- The cubs were transported to Meru National Park on October 24, 2016 at an approximate age of 10 months. They will be kept in an enclosure that has already been constructed until they will be strong enough to survive on their own (estimated after about 3 months). During their stay in the enclosure, they will be provided with all their needs including feeds, water, veterinary care and maintenance of the enclosure cleanliness and hygienic. Human contact will be kept to the absolute minimum. Only essential personnel will be allowed near the enclosure. The enclosure is located at a point near the Bwatherongi campsite inside the Park. The location is ideal as it is far from the community areas, isolated from people, has plenty of potential prey, water is available, wilderness environment and housing for attendants is nearby.
- They will be fed a natural diet as much as possible. This will include whole carcases of domestic animals and where possible wildlife species such as from road kills or problem animal control. The objective of this will be to teach them how to handle whole carcasses and to prevent them from getting too much of a taste for livestock. If possible, the diet shall regularly be supplemented with fruits which also comprise occasional part of stripped hyena diet. Two field assistants, one from the Meru research team and the other from BFF Meru team were attached to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage for 5 days to learn on the handling of these animals. The two will be taking care of the animals while in Meru up to the point of release. This will ensure that we have people to handle any future cases.
- A soft release process shall be adopted whereby a release and feed arrangement shall be adopted. The feed ration and frequency of feeding shall be gradually reduced. It is anticipated that as this is done, the cubs will gradually learn to fend for themselves. Satellite collars shall be deployed during the rehabilitation period to assist in the post-release monitoring. They will be monitored for about two years and details regarding their movement and progress recorded. Should the release be determined unsuccessful at any point, the cubs will be taken back to the Nairobi Animal Orphanage to assure them of a life.