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Nature’s Recyclers

Photograph by Baiju Patil.

Backlit by the fading rays of the evening sun, these striped hyena cubs make for a striking image, with their roundish heads, pointed muzzles and long, pointed ears. In a world where good looks are highly prized, these creatures, widely distributed across India, have been villified as child lifters and symbols of bad omens. Regarded as ‘ugly’ by most and reviled for their carrion-eating ways, most people forget that the planet would be unliveable were it not for the incredible recycling service of hyenas and all other manner of creatures including vultures, crows, kites, beetles and maggots. Of course, almost any hungry predator will avail of a free meal but some animals are particularly well equipped for the task. In the case of hyenas, their powerful jaws studded with large carnassials and premolars  enable bone-cracking, an adaptation that allows the animals to almost completely consume a carcass.

There are only four Hyaenid species in the world – the spotted, brown, and striped hyenas, and the aardwolf. Of these, the only hyaenid to exist outside Africa is the striped hyena, whose pointed ears contrast with the shorter, rounded ones of the spotted hyena. Weighing between 30 and 35 kg. and standing just about 70 cm. tall when threatened, the striped hyena will erect the long hair on the back of its neck to appear larger.

Naturalists confirm that these fascinating creatures use sight, smell and hearing to locate food. Opportunistic feeders, these omnivorous scavengers will not only hunt small mammals and ground-nesting or feeding birds, but will also get by on fruit and vegetable matter. Though they are usually solitary, small family groups are often seen near dens.

A study by Priya Singh, Arjun M. Gopalaswamy and Dr. K. Ullas Karanth estimating hyena densities in Rajasthan’s Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary and the Esrana Forest Range used photo capture-recaptures to estimate hyena densities and population dynamics. In their words: “Hyena persistence is a function of disturbance-free refuges, abundant availability of livestock carcasses and social tolerance of hyenas’ scavenging.”

Location: Velavadar, Gujarat

Camera: Nikon D700

Shutter speed: 0.5 sec

Shot taken: May 25, 2012; 6:37:57 a.m.

Author: Lakshmy Raman, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIII, No. 3, June 2013.

 
 
 

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