Hyena Attacks II

We went to Maalka Raafu last Monday to get the details on the conflict between hyenas and the people that had been reported in the media. Thankfully it wasn’t as severe or extensive as what was reported in the media, but still pretty disturbing.
It turns out that there were eight hyenas killed by poison after a farmer had spiked a goat carcass in retaliation for some attacks by hyenas on his stock. Four of the hyenas died on the spot and another four staggered around the village and were killed by the villagers using munchas (axes). Four days later the first attack on the children occurred where a little girl, Sumiya Yusuf, was taken at about 7pm and killed. The following morning at 8am a hyena attacked another small child, biting her leg but was chased off. Apparently this hyena then went and attacked a child close by and caused some head injuries and was chased off by villagers. The following morning, again at 8am a hyena attacked another child, this time a 3 year old girl who was playing in front of her house. A neighbour’s children raised the alarm and the neighbour came and chased away the hyena. I met this little girl and her injuries were not too severe. She’d lost some baby teeth and had swelling to one side of her face but thankfully no disfiguring scars. The morning after the last attack, a hyena was killed by villagers. It’s unusual for a hyena to be out and about at this time, especially in the middle of a built up area.
The solution arrived at by the town council was not to destroy any dens, but to destroy the large bushes, (Afkolo, a kind of sage) that the hyenas were using as cover. Following the destruction of all these bushes in the town the attacks ceased.
Coincidentally, the morning of the day that we arrived in the town, a hyenas had been spotted near the school. The locals chased the hyena down and killed it with a muncha . When I asked if they were expecting retaliation for this killing the people said, yes they were. So I asked, why kill the hyena in the first place? Their response was that the hyena had been seen near the school at a similar time to the previous attacks and so it was likely to have been preparing to attack another child. They were taking preventative measures. It’s hard to imagine the fear that these people must have right now for their children’s safety.
The locals and others in the region are adamant that hyenas have a revenge ethic. I’ve been told of farmers who’ve killed hyenas and have had their crops destroyed by the rest of the clan; of a man who killed a hyena and whose son was in turn killed by other hyenas; of a coffee seller who insulted a hyena and who, the next day, found that her glasses and pots had been smashed by the animal. Whether or not these stories are true, they surely must make people think twice before killing hyenas.
Whether the attacks in Maalka Raafu were acts of revenge is debatable. Firstly, it was not the original killer of the hyenas, or his family, that was attacked. Nor was it the people in the close vicinity who had killed the dazed hyenas. The attacks on the children occurred about half a kilometre away in a different part of the town. Secondly there are some environmental factors to be considered. The area around the hyenas denning site has been severely deforested, leaving few wild game to be caught and creating a total dependence by the hyenas on food scavenged from the village. There had also been a tremendous amount of rainfall in the week prior to the attacks, the water making it very difficult for hyenas to identify the origin of any scents, in turn making it difficult for these hyenas to find food. Hence, plain old hunger could have been the reason for the original attacks on the farmer’s goats and also the reason for the attacks on the children. This is not to say you should rule out revenge altogether. There’s another social predator in Africa and elsewhere, that is well known for its acts of revenge, especially against animals that dare to kill one of its number.

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