This seems a very questionable piece – full of old stereotypes and value judgements. The density figures are totally wrong – I think they mean square kilometres not square metres.  KS

Citizen (Tanzania)


By Abdul Mohammed

Officials of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCAA) and researchers from the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Tawiri) are worried by the increasing number of hyenas in the Ngorongoro Crater.

Speaking to The Citizen last November, the NCCA, Chief Conservationist, Dr Freddy Manongi, revealed that there are about 600 hyenas living in an area of some 300sq. metres of the Ngorongoro Crater, which is part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area is a multiple land-use place in which wildlife coexists with semi-nomadic Maasai pastoralists practising traditional livestock grazing.

The ugly part of all this is that the hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) kill calves of other animal species in the area – and, if this trend continues, it’s bound to endanger the future of Ngorongoro as zebras, gazelles, wildebeest and buffaloes disappear from the place.

To appreciate what NCAA and Tawiri are concerned about, just watch videos of hyenas out a-hunting. Unlike lions, cheetahs and other ‘organised’ predators which select what to kill and what to spare for another day, hyenas wantonly kill even newborn calves, Dr Manongi says.

Another major concern, the Chief Conservation says, is that the hyenas’ nasty habit of feasting on calves of other animal species is – albeit imperceptibly – causing animals like cheetahs to migrate from the Crater in search of better hunting grounds, so to speak!

It is on these grounds, he says, that a project aimed at taming the number of hyenas in the Ngorongoro has been launched.

The Tawiri and NCCA concerns on this are not exactly new.

As long ago as in the early 1900s, an American author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), harbored similar sentiments.

Aldo and other foresters were not particularly happy with the increasing number of wolves, so, they one day shot a mother wolf and its cubs as they were romping in the forest.

Later on, Aldo realised that he was wrong – and wrote: “I was young then and full of trigger-itch. I thought that, because fewer wolves meant more deer, then ‘no wolves’ would mean a hunter’s paradise. But, after seeing the mother wolf dying, I sensed that neither the wolf nor a Mountain agreed with such a view.”

Aldo added that, “lacking natural predators such as wolves to thin out the herds, populations of deer and elk grew unchecked – and, soon enough, there was not enough food for all of them, and large numbers of the animals would die of starvation or diseases.

Therefore, it is important that NCCA and Tawiri take time out to mull over Aldo’s observations. As natural predators, even hyenas are needed for the survival of other wild creatures and the ecosystem within the Ngorongoro Crater.

Humans may currently see hyenas as a threat to other wildlife. But, the beasts also help control the population of wildebeests and the like. If the latter’s populations continue grow unchecked, their numbers could balloon, and they would start struggling to find what to eat.

Environmentalists generally agree that Nature is capable of regulating itself, and that there is no need for external interventions.

This philosophy surely needs to be applied in the Ngorongoro Crater as Nature would eventually take care of matters. In other words: we really do not need to control any predator for the survival of Ngorongoro; everything should be left to Mother Nature.

Indeed, given the current situation within the Ngorongoro, NCAA and Tawiri may need to establish why hyenas are now a threat to other animal species; how long this threat has been there – and how best to effectively tackle it.

If there must be human interventions, then these must be kept to the minimum.

I am not totally dismissing as baseless NCCA and Tawiri’s concerns about the hyenas. But maximum care must be exercised to maintain the ecosystem balance within the Ngorongoro as Nature intended.

For example, when the researchers say there are about 600 hyenas in an area of 300sq. meters in the Ngorongoro Crater – that is TWO hyenas to ONE square metre – what is/should be the appropriate number of hyenas in that area?

The two esteemed conservation institutions should seriously consider going back to past records to establish, for example: what was the number of hyenas in the Crater in the 1980s, when the beasts weren’t considered a threat?

There are important considerations which need to be made before taking any decision. What, for instance, about other national parks like Manyara, Serengeti and Tarangire: are they facing similar ‘hyena problems?’

How about relocating some hyenas from Ngorongoro to other parks and game reserves to ease the pressure at the Crater? Et cetera; et cetera…

Abdul Mohammed is a Revise Editor with Mwananchi.

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