Disturbance in the Mara

Does anyone know about the hyena blog run by Michigan State University? The students working on hyena research in the Masai Mara Reserve, Kenya, write the posts and we get insights into not only hyena lives but the lives of the researchers.

There’s one particularly disturbing post from April 16 which describes the immediate aftermath of a poisoning incident. Apparently a local farmer laced a carcass with poison and left it out for the local fauna. The results were devastating: hyenas dead, jackals, eagles, and vultures dead and the effects rolling on like the hills. In fact so toxic was the (bright pink) poison that flies landing on the carcasses of hyenas were dropping dead… like flies. This in turn was a worry because poisoned animals seek out water to drink. An odourless, residual poison like that can be passed on and on and even end up in the drinking water of every animal in the Mara (including humans).

Ok that’s pretty disturbing but what came up on the blog a few weeks later disturbed me even more. One of the grad students gave an account of the cubs who were orphaned by the poisoning incident and said how hard it would be to sit and watch the cubs starve to death. These students are as human as anyone – they always gush about the cuteness of cubs – so I wonder what effect this is having on the students. Is the pursuit of objectivity so important that they are forced to watch cubs starve to death? That’s pretty oppressive. But what’s the other option: provisioning cubs? Is that an unacceptable, unforgivable, methodological sin? What about euthanasia? Hans Kruuk who wrote the seminal work on spotted hyenas had no qualms about euthanizing mortally injured hyenas. What do you think? Is there something wrong with this situation where grad students who obviously adore hyena cubs are made to watch them starve to death? The Masai Mara Reserve only exists through human intervention; would human intervention be entirely unacceptable in the case of starving, baby hyenas?


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