Dead cat, second time

A few nights ago, we were indoors with the hyena-man and his family, playing with the kids and watching the endless singing and dancing that constitutes 90% of Ethiopian television content. After we said our goodbyes and exited the compound, I shone my torch at the hill to see which of the hyenas was still around, and there in the torchlight was Juggie with a white and grey kitten in her mouth. A very dead white and grey kitten of about 6 months old.
Uh oh, I thought, Juggie killed Beyonce! (the name the kids gave to their white and grey kitten) and with some trepidation we went back to the family home to break the news. After being told this, the kids raced out to see and, as we passed the hut that constitutes the living room, the eldest daughter, Ardalle, stopped and called us back, pointing into the hut. There, on the nadaba (a raised platform, the equivalent of a sofa) was Beyonce, curled up and fast asleep. Ok, that was a relief, but who was the strange kitten that Juggie had in her mouth? We raced out to the hill and Abbas, the hyena man’s son, found Juggie in his torchlight, still with the kitten in her mouth. Juggie froze and, like a child who realises they’re in big trouble, turned and ran off into the darkness with Abbas in hot pursuit, fully intent on getting Juggie to relinquish the kitten. I never did ask Abbas what he intended to do with a dead kitten but it was a moot point as he came back empty handed and with one less flip-flop, which broke and was lost in the chase. Even more sadly, I was reminded that there will be no Bebe to take possession of the discarded footwear.
What is interesting here is that while Juggie had the dead kitten in her mouth, at no time did she put it down to eat it. And there was not one of the half dozen hyenas on the hill that tried to take the kitten from Juggie. In fact they showed no interest at all which is stark contrast to the way they behave when a hyena has some kind of treat like a shoulder-blade. Which brings me back to something a Harari friend told me earlier: ‘Hyenas do not eat domestic cats’. Strange to say this about an animal that eats even its own kind but so far I’ve seen hyenas pass up on one near-dead kitten, one very dead cat and now, one very dead kitten. It’s quite likely that Juggie didn’t kill the kitten but found it dead on the road or in a laneway and picked it up to take away and roll around on at some stage. Jalla demonstrated this behaviour last year and there is video of it in a previous post and again, in that case, Jalla refrained from eating the dead moggie.
My friend suggested that we could test his hypothesis by topping a cat and taking it to the hyena-feeding place and offering it to the hyenas but I’m actually fond of cats and don’t need to prove it that badly. And really, if the hyenas didn’t eat it, it would only prove that well fed hyenas don’t eat dead cats. I would bet anything that hungry hyenas would, and out of the blue last night came the evidence. A biologist friend sent me an article with the results of some research conducted in the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia. The researchers collected 180 hyena scat samples, cleaned, dried and powdered them, and then examined the hairs that each contained. The hairs were compared with a hair reference collection to identify the species that the hyenas were eating and in one of those 180 scats they did indeed find cat hairs. So if we accept that the hyena ate the cat consciously and not by accident – the remains of the cat might have been mixed up in some garbage – then this is proof positive that hyenas eat cats. Mind you, cat meat doesn’t seem to rate highly in hyenas’ food preferences when we consider that 20 of the 180 scats contained human hairs.

Our house cat, Silvio, will probably not end up in a hyena's belly


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