Hyenas, frequently overlooked, generally misunderstood, and occasionally even hated by our species, are essential to maintaining the health and viability of the environment, which benefits us in several ways.
With the help of Dr. Ingrid Wiesel, a leading authority on hyena conservation, we examine the brown hyena’s way of life, discover how endangered it is in Namibia, and explain why you should see hyenas in their natural habitat.
She founded the Brown Hyena Study Project, a non-profit organization located in Namibia that conducts scientific research on brown hyenas and other predators to help in their long-term conservation. She also serves as its Senior Scientist and Researcher.
Due to the lack of an ongoing long-term research effort on the species at the time, Dr. Wiesel started studying brown hyenas 25 years ago.
The Mysterious Namibian Brown Hyenas
There are now four species of living hyenas in the Hyaenidae family. These include the aardwolf, brown hyena, spotted hyena, and striped hyena. Brown hyenas are a species that are close to extinction in southern Africa.
Most of Namibia is home to them, except for the southern, eastern, and northern regions. They are one of the rarest carnivores in Africa, with just 4,300 to 10,000 adult individuals in their population.
Dr. Wiesel stated the following while discussing the species’ current conservation situation in Namibia:
The newly published Namibian red data list book on carnivores is yet unavailable. The population of Namibia appears to be steady, but because of various dangers that might have an impact on the population if they are not reduced or monitored, it has been categorized as near threatened.
Various environments, including deserts, marshes, grasslands, savannas, shrublands, coastal sea regions, rocky areas, etc., are home to brown hyenas.
An estimated 800 to 1200 individuals of the species live in Namibia, with about half of them residing in the coastal regions of the Namib Desert. Critical protected habitat for these wild creatures in the nation is the Sperrgebiet National Park.
Brown hyenas are among the giant carnivores in the area, weighing between 35 and 45 kg. They are covered in long fur. While their necks and shoulders are robust, their back legs are less developed.
These gregarious mammals reside in clans and find refuge in dens. Females give birth to one to four pups simultaneously, while other clan members help with the cubs’ care.
Most brown hyenas’ diets consist primarily of the corpses of animals that either expire naturally or are killed by other predators. They occasionally seek prey and consume fruits, insects, and other foods.
Carrion that has washed up on the shore and mainland Cape fur seal pups and corpses also provide significant food sources for these hyenas in the coastal regions of the Namib Desert. Dr. Wiesel presented some findings from his investigation into the local brown hyenas:
The 1970s saw a significant amount of investigation on how brown hyenas communicate with one another. My early research focused on how they foraged and hunted in seal colonies.
However, during the course of the research, we were able to collar several animals in the nearby interior as well as coastal areas of the Namib desert.
According to the examination of this data, some resident species’ home ranges were larger than 3,000 km2, and it was common for them to move more than 35 km on average each night. This demonstrates their incredible capacity to thrive in a hostile environment.”
The Need for Brown Hyena Conservation
It would seem that the very hardy brown hyenas do not require immediate protection because of their primarily constant numbers. But it’s essential to remember that every species that has gone extinct or is in danger of going extinct was once widespread.
The numbers of these animals continued to decline due to shifting human requirements and activities, sometimes going beyond the control of conservation methods to result in the complete extinction of the species.
Thus, all species, including brown hyenas, must receive proper care. Due to their scavenging behaviors, they serve as nature’s cleansers, and their departure would leave a hole in the environment.
By eating the garbage, they keep the ecology healthy by preventing the buildup of corpses and other waste.
Dr. Wiesel listed some of the greatest dangers to brown hyenas in Namibia, including
Diverse viewpoints exist. Locals appreciate brown hyenas as a particular component of their ecosystem and take pride in their existence in various regions of Namibia. They are viewed as a risk to cattle in other locations.
To assess this scenario in these locations, there is still more work to be done. Due to their reclusive nature, inhabitants in certain areas are unaware of their presence, and frequently do not even understand the distinctions between the several hyena species that may be found in Namibia.
Like many predators, brown hyena body parts are employed in traditional remedies. Since more specific information is still lacking and it is not yet considered to pose a serious threat, She spoke.
Brown Hyena Conservation Challenges in Namibia
The global conservation community frequently goes unnoticed hyenas, which tends to focus more on iconic species like lions, tigers, rhinos, and elephants. We enquire of Dr. Wiesel on the principal difficulties she and her group have had in maintaining the species:
Brown hyenas are rarely the focus of conservation programs, and their conservation status is (fortunately) not severe enough to prevent us from applying with more extensive, more significant programs, she said.
As a result, she said, the most crucial ongoing challenge is to secure enough funding each year to cover basic operating costs and salaries.
We don’t have a lot of reliable historical information on their population number.
Through the hyena distribution mapping project, which was started a few years ago, we are evaluating their present distribution to serve as a baseline for future research and perhaps also to make inferences about their population state. She went on.
However, Dr. Wiesel also noted that after they overcame the initial difficulties of becoming recognized as a reliable partner and consultant regarding conservation issues in the nation, their work has received ongoing support from the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism and local stakeholders.
Hyena tourism promotion as a crucial conservation tool
The term hyena tourism is scarcely fashionable, although we have heard of tiger tourism, leopard tourism, orangutan tourist, etc. Contrary to popular opinion, hyenas have equally intriguing lifestyles that fascinate anyone visiting them.
Hyenas have the potential to draw visitors to their habitats in Namibia, and Dr. Wiesel and her team hope to use this to promote hyena conservation.
She added that we are developing some tourism-focused activities to promote public awareness of this species, its intrinsic importance, and its economic significance.
Hopefully, once people understand that hyenas are friendly and not dangerous, hyena tourism will take off in the following years.