Saturday 3 September 2022

Striped Hyenas spotted in the Dghoumes National Park, Tunisia, and the Moroccan High Atlas for the first time in decades.

Striped Hyenas, Hyaena hyaena, are medium-sized Carnivoran Mammals with a wide distribution from North and West Africa, through East Africa and the Middle East to the Caucasus region and South and Central Asia. They mate for life, with both members of a pair partaking equally in the raising of the young. Spotted Hyenas are primarily carrion feeders, although they will hunt small prey, and can be found in wide range of habitats. They are, however, seldom tolerated around farmland, because of their perceived threat to livestock, and have become locally extinct across parts of their range, while suffering major declines in population in others. As such they are currently classified as Vulnerable under the terms of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

A Striped Hyena, Hyaena hyaena, in the Jebel Akhdar uplands of northeastern Libya. Rushikesh Deshmukh/Wikimedia Commons.

The expansion of agriculture in Tunisia, and in particular the farming of livestock, has fuelled conflicts between Humans and carnivores, with only the African Wolf, Canis lupaster, and the Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes, remaining in many areas. The Striped Hyena is thought to have disappeared from most of Tunisia in the twentieth century, with the only twenty-first century records coming from camera traps in the Jebel Serj National Park in the north of the country.

In a letter to the journal Orynx published on 30 August 2022, Mohamed Khalil Meliane and Amira Saidi of Marwell Wildlife and the Research Laboratory of Biodiversity, Management and Conservation of Biological Systems at the University of Tunis El Manar, Marie Petretto and Tim Woodfine, also of Marwell Wildlife, and Philip Riordan and Tania Gilbert, again of Marwell Wildlife and of Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, report camera trap observations of the Spotted Hyena in the Dghoumes National Park in southern Tunisia.

The observations were made as part of an assessment of biodiversity in the park following the re-introduction of the Scimitar-horned Oryx, Oryx dammah, Dorcas Gazelle, Gazella dorcas and North African Ostrich, Struthio camelus camelus. A total of 30 camera traps were deployed along Animal trails between April 2018 and March 2022. Striped Hyenas were spotted only during one month each during 2018 and 2019, but were spotted during six months each in 2020 and 2021. During this time 20 observations were made of at least two individual Hyenas. Camera traps placed in the Jbil National Park and Sidi Toui National Park in southern Tunisia failed to record any Spotted Hyenas.

In a second letter published in Orynx on the same day, Abderrazak Ek Alami and El Mustapha Bouzid of the Moroccan Ministry of National Education, and Abderrazak Fattah of the University of Hassan II in Casablanca, confirm the first observation of a Striped Hyena in the Central High Atlas Mountains of Morocco since 2000.

El Alami et al. were engaged in surveying the area for Carnivores between 2019 and 2022, although they did not observe any Striped Hyenas during this survey. However, on 20 April 2022 a Hyena was shot and killed by a local resident in the Faryata region north-east of the town of Beni Mellal, with photographs of the dead Animal being subsequently posted to social media, prompting local authorities to investigate, as the species is protected under Moroccan law.

This (unfortunate) incident confirms that Striped Hyenas are still present in the High Atlas, although the fact that the species was not detected by a survey which was able to located other elusive species suggests that their numbers are very low, leading El Alami et al. to conclude that more efforts are needed both to protect Carnivores in this region, and to promote education about conservation in order to reduce Human-wildlife conflicts.

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