For the past six months we have been working together with Wild Dog Conservation Malawi (WDCM) and our Wildlife Emergency Response Unit (WERU) to relocate some urban hyaenas in Lilongwe. The reason behind the move is that some of the wild hyaenas in the capital had become somewhat of a pest in particular areas and in order to decrease any threat towards them, we collectively decided it was best to move them to a more suitable area; Liwonde National Park, where there is little chance of any human-wildlife conflict.
Being Africa’s most common carnivore, it is not surprising that the relationship between humans and hyaenas has become fairly tainted, particularly in over-populated areas where they are often seen as scavengers. Most issues of human-wildlife conflict are attempted to be tackled by means of conservation education within local communities, as there are often many benefits in having wildlife around. WDCM have been conducting extensive research on urban hyaenas and have been working to dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings about hyaenas and reduce some of the fear associated with them. In this case, however, the best solution for all parties involved seemed to be to give the hyaenas a more appropriate home where there is copious food and space for them to roam away from people. Yet this does not make the task any easy one!
Hyaenas are not small animals, nor are they easy to catch. They are nocturnal, extremely shy and can reach up to 90kg, so we were working in the dark and needed plenty of manpower! Using knowledge of urban hyaenas from Wild Dog Conservation Malawi, Dr Amanda Salb, who runs the Wildlife Emergency Response Unit and is professionally trained in game capture, set to work with bait and her trusty dart gun for several nights of surveillance. The first two hyaenas were caught back in July and have since remained in an enclosure at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. They are kept well away from the public eye as they are highly elusive and, being wild animals in an unknown environment, are susceptible to a great deal of stress.
Two more hyaenas from the same area were caught in December, and we are now confident that the four of them together are a strong enough clan to make for a successful release. The time has now come and we plan to transport and release them tomorrow, Monday 12th January, so watch this space!