Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Satellite-Tagging Rescued Hyenas in Meru

By Tim Oloo – Born Free Kenya Country Manager – tim[at]bornfree.or.ke

This week (16th May 2017), KWS and Born Free Foundation satellite collared two sub-adult striped hyenas in Meru Park.

The two, a female and male, were rescued a year ago after their mother abandoned them when she got involved in conflict with one of the Park’s neighbouring communities.

The two cubs were moved to Nairobi Animal Orphanage for special care as a rehabilitation programme was planned by the two organisations. A year after their rescue, they will be monitored to see how they will integrate back into the wild as well as learn more about them as there are limited studies on striped hyenas.

Preparing the Drugs

Prepping the drugs

Dr Bernard Rono, a vet with Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) based in Meru Park, prepares a dart with the opiate used to immobilise a hyena while a vet intern looks on. The opiate is a combination of two drugs, one which needs to wear off on its own and the other needs a reversal to revive the animal.  The darts are prepared by vets only as the drugs can be lethal. Meru Park is hot and humid and the drugs have to be stored in cool areas or in cooler boxes, when necessary.

Before Dr Rono prepares the dart, a brief meeting is held for the full team. The collaring is projected to take about two hours from darting to fixing collars and reviving the hyenas.  

Before the briefing, the two caretakers from KWS and Born Free had already checked the hyenas earlier in their enclosure located a few metres from the temporary campsite. Misheck Kirema and Moses Gitonga have been taking care of and monitoring the behaviour and growth of the two hyenas for the last six months since the animals were moved from Nairobi back to Meru Park.

Every individual in this operation has a role to play and their actions are seemlessly choreographed.

Aim and Dart

Only six people including the two vets are allowed to the enclosure. This is to minimise getting the hyenas agitated.

Dr Rono calmly places the dart gun on the cage and aims.  He waits as the target candidate – the male - has started pacing up and about.  He waits until the animal calms down and, with the rump area clearly within his sight and with the ease of the skilled marksman, he pulls the trigger. Seconds later, the darted hyena removes the dart and begins chewing on it. No cause for alarm as the drug has already been discharged into its body. The female gets interested in the dart as well and the two tussle for it. Within three minutes of darting, the male succumbs to the effects and lays on the ground. The female was fully immobilised after five minutes of darting.

Aim and dart

Securing the Hyena

A few minutes later, Dr Rono goes into the enclosure to confirm it is fully immobilised as well as check its breathing.  He gives the go-ahead to move the animal to a more conducive area.

Securing the striped hyena

Recording Vital Data

Recording vital data

The vets check the hyena’s general health state, take tissue and blood samples as well as administer antibiotic eye drops and anti-parasitic drugs. 

As they do so, the scientists and assistants take measurements of the animal - the neck circumference to help size the collar length to fit snugly – neither tight nor loose – and with some allowance for growth.

They also take other physical bio-data such as length and width, weight, canine teeth and paw size, age range and gender.  Sexing hyenas, particularly the spotted species, is not straightforward as with other predators. However, for these striped hyenas, it is not complicated as their anatomy is distinctly different.

Others deftly check the folds and crevices of the hyena to collect ticks and other parasites.  The female was slightly larger than the male in body size but weighed less by 1kg. 

Fixing the Collar

Once the neck size is known, the plate and nuts are used to fix the lead weight. The collar weighs about 1.25kg and is made up of a hard rubber belt, a transmitter pack and a lead weight. The transmitter belt is usually placed centrally on top of the hyena’s neck and the lead weight at the bottom. The lead weight keeps the transmitter in correct position for satellite signals. 

Once the nuts are tightened, the team cuts the collar with a sharp knife or razor after retaining several inches of allowance between the collar and neck for growth.

Fixing the collar

Into the Enclosure Again

The animal is moved back into the enclosure and under a shade. The female comes and tries to rouse up her brother but in vain. She lets him be and heads back to a corner, keeping a wary eye on us. We wait for a few minutes before a reversal drug is administered. And wait yet again for signs of consciousness.

Back on Their Feet

Groggily, the animal  slowly struggles  back onto its feet again. The white rings in the eyes are the antibiotic. In some 10 minutes the hyena is walking more steadily. It takes 1 hour 10 minutes to collar both hyenas and have them back on their feet again. It’s a well co-ordinated and successful operation.

They will be observed for three days before they are released.

Back on feet

Freedom Day

Three days after collaring, we assemble at the enclosure again to release the hyenas. It’s the female’s turn to pace up and down, the male is calm and getting snappy at the female who keeps bumping into him. The collars are intact and well positioned.

Into the Wilderness

The enclosure’s gates are opened and we wait to observe their walk to freedom. 18 minutes later, the female moves towards the inner door, finds it open and ventures further. She peeks through the second door, slowly walks out, turns back for a second and walks away into the bush in the direction of the Bwatherongi River.  The male is unperturbed and stays in the corner. He moves under the wooden house, moves out, and then crouches under the house again. Eventually 18 minutes later, he walks out and disappears into the wilderness.

Freedom day

We track them for half an hour to confirm their location – they are both moving, split but in the same general area. We hope they will survive and thrive in the Meru expansive wilderness.  

Born Free and KWS scientists will monitor these hyenas for a year and the data collected will enable both organisations make informed decisions on the conservation and management of striped hyenas.

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Tracking Hyenas
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906


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