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Give-and-take helps hyenas, people coexist

MICHIGAN STATE (US) — Motion-detection cameras show that in the southern Rift Valley of Kenya, the Maasai people and their livestock coexist fairly happily with carnivores that include hyenas, lions, and bat-eared foxes.

“I wouldn’t call the results surprising,” says Meredith Evans Wagner, a visiting scholar from the University of Florida at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University. “Other research has shown that people and carnivores can coexist, but there is a large body of thought that believes carnivores need their own protected space to survive.”

The paper echoes the results of a recent study that found that tigers and people share the same space in Chitwan National Park in Nepal, albeit at different times.


In Kenya’s Rift Valley, carnivores, livestock, and people share the same space in relative peace. (Credit: Michigan State)

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For the study, published in Biological Conservation, researchers spent more than two years documenting the region’s carnivores, using motion-detecting camera traps to capture images of the creatures and people using four different areas of land: a conservation area with no human settlements; a grazing area that also had no human settlements; a permanent settlement area; and a buffer zone between the grazing and conservation areas that included seasonal human settlements.

Most of the results were expected. The majority of carnivore photos were taken after dark, and most of the larger predators, such as lions and spotted hyenas, tended to be found in the conservation area that didn’t include any human settlements. However, there also were some intriguing findings.

“We found that while there were more striped hyenas in the conservation area, there also were striped hyenas in the buffer zone, close to the human settlement area,” Wagner says. “The hyenas weren’t avoiding that area; they were using the settlement area as a resource in addition to hunting.”

When the Maasai slaughter an animal for food, they throw the scraps out their back doors. This is at the edge of the buffer zone, where the striped hyenas were happy to eat them.

“Carnivores aren’t a problem for this group of Maasai,” Wagner says. “They’ve made a conscious decision to not hunt carnivores. If one of their livestock is killed by a carnivore, people don’t go out and kill a carnivore in retaliation. It’s a little bit unusual in that way. But in our study, we found that carnivores killing livestock didn’t happen a lot.”

Wildlife is clearly driven away from the permanent settlement areas, says postdoctoral researcher Aaron Wagner.

“But the seasonal human migration out of the buffer zone keeps that area viable for wildlife,” he says. “Numbers drop when the cattle and people move in, but the striped hyenas seem to have habits that allow them to compensate. They do scavenge around Maasai settlements when the pickings are good, but they hunt, too.”

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Cincinnati Zoo and the Panthera Corporation.

Source: Michigan State University

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