Spotted Hyaena: Status and Conservation

Threats

The spotted hyena has been, and still is, widely shot, poisoned, trapped, and snared, even inside some protected areas. Persecution most often occurs in farming areas after confirmed or assumed damage to livestock, or as a preventative measure to protect livestock. However, it may also take place “for fun” and as “target practice” (Namibia, Kenya), and out of fear of the animal. Persecution appears to be the prime source of population decline, which appears to be more pronounced outside protected areas than inside. Most populations in protected areas in southern Africa are considered to be stable, whereas many populations in eastern and western Africa, even in protected areas, are considered to be declining, mostly due to incidental snaring and poisoning. Although sport hunting is permitted in several countries after purchasing a sport hunting license, the numbers killed by sport hunters are small as hyaenas are not considered an attractive species. Spotted hyaenas are also killed for use of their body parts as food or medicine. Destruction of habitat operates mostly indirectly; habitat loss and degradation and overgrazing by domestic stock reduce the habitat available to populations of wildlife that are suitable prey for the spotted hyaena.

A road-killed subadult spotted hyaena in a national park in Kenya.
A spotted hyaena shot by sport hunters in the Selous, Tanzania.

Spotted hyaenas sometimes attack livestock owned by African farmers or pastoralists and these people may retaliate by large-scale poisoning of local hyaenas.

Official attitudes towards the spotted hyaena vary widely from positive attitudes of active protection, through benign neglect, to negative ones of considering the species vermin. Legal classification varies from “vermin” (Ethiopia) to fully protected in conservation areas. Thus, while it is fully protected in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, the spotted hyaena may be legally shot by sport hunters in the adjacent Maswa Game Reserve. According to a questionnaire survey performed by the HSG, regulations and wildlife laws in most countries are only enforced as far as financial, logistical and manpower constraints allow them to be (often inadequately). Bounty systems do not operate any more in eastern or southern Africa, although there are still countries where farmers may kill hyaenas at their discretion. A bounty is apparently still offered in Cameroon. There is no information on the presence or absence of bounty systems available from a number of Sahel countries in west Africa.

A spotted hyaena with a wire snare around its neck in Kenya. Such snares are often made from wire taken from steel-belted radial tires. Photo by Russ Van Horn.
“Pet” spotted hyaenas (and baboons) in Nigeria. The hyaena on the right wears a thick rope muzzle.

Conservation Status

The total world population size of the spotted hyaena is well above 10,000 individuals, several subpopulations exceed 1000 individuals and its range well exceeds 20,000 sq.km. The rapid decline of populations outside conservation areas due to persecution and habitat loss makes the species increasingly dependent on the continued existence of protected areas. The HSG therefore agrees with the latest classification of the spotted hyaena as Lower Risk: conservation dependent (IUCN 2000).

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