Kenya rangers care for 3 abandoned hyena cubs

AP News
Posted: Mar 17, 2011 9:04 AM
Kenya rangers care for 3 abandoned hyena cubs

The tiny hyena sucking on Dr. Kariuki Edward's gloved finger will be able to bite through steel and crack open bones when it grows up.

But for now the male hyena cub and his two sisters lie helpless in Edward's hands, lulled by warm milk and the attention of caregivers.

The three striped hyena cubs were abandoned by their mother and are now being cared for by the Kenya Wildlife Service at the animal orphanage in Nairobi National Park, where visitors will be able to see them after they grow a bit bigger.

"They are endangered ... because they are hunted for their parts, which are believed to be medicinal. Fortunately this does not happen in Kenya. The main problem that we have in Kenya is habitat loss," Edward said as he checked the three for parasites or diseases. He weighed the fluffy cubs on a plastic kitchen cooking scale.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists striped hyenas as "near threatened." The global population is estimated to be less than 10,000 mature individuals.

Striped hyenas can be distinguished from their more common cousins, the spotted or brown hyenas, by the black stripes on their legs, torsos and backs. Striped hyenas live up to 12 years and reach 2.2 to 2.5 feet (66 to 75 centimeters). The long hair on their necks rises when they feel threatened, which makes the hyenas appear to grow by a third.

Now, the three cubs can be easily held in a human hand. Their fur sticks up in tufts and they mew and nuzzle each other, struggling to open their eyes.

Ranger Samuel Induare has adopted the three. He feeds them warm milk from a bottle every four hours and takes them out to play in the sunshine in between sleep sessions under the orange glow of an incubator.

Induare said he is "very, very happy to be their mother after they were abandoned."

The hyenas are among many animals threatened by habitat loss in Kenya, as human populations expand and encroach onto the territory of wild animals. Conservationists hope that by preserving habitat for bigger animals like rhinos, elephants and hyenas _ so called "umbrella species" _ they will save many smaller species who share the same space.

But raising orphaned or abandoned animals is challenging and time-consuming. Some conservationists say that the effort and money would be better spent by preserving habitat for successful wild animal families to inhabit. These cubs will probably never be able to return to the wild; their human caregivers cannot teach them the hunting skills a mother could.

Edward and Induare say that the captive cubs can serve a different purpose: helping Kenyans and foreign visitors understand their species better.

"The best thing we can do is to provide them with meat and live with them for a long time and hope all Kenyans will learn from them when they visit us," said Edward.