More sightings sign of rise in striped hyena population, say forest officials 

A reason for the decline in the Sigur plateau is that in the 1980s and 90s, people reared cattle in pens.

May 26, 2021 10:09 pm | Updated May 27, 2021 11:16 am IST - Udhagamandalam

 An Indian striped hyena caught on camera traps recently by the forest department.

An Indian striped hyena caught on camera traps recently by the forest department.

An increase in the frequency of sightings of the elusive Indian striped hyena ( Hyaena hyaena ) in the buffer zone of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) raises hope among conservationists and forest department officials that the species is re-establishing itself in the region.

The species, whose numbers declined substantially over the last few decades, used to be seen even in the upper Nilgiris till the 1950s. In the book, Whispers from the Wild , noted conservation biologist Priya Davidar, recalls the calls of a striped hyena near her house in Church Hill in Udhagamandalam during those times. “My memory of the hyena dates back to the 1950s when we lived in an isolated cottage on top of Church Hill, called Wrexhurst… During a particular time of the year, a striped hyena would walk down the road above the cottage calling ghoulishly, probably trying to find a mate,” wrote Ms. Davidar, in the introduction to the book. 

The numbers dropped since then, said B. Ramakrishnan, assistant professor at the Department of Zoology and Wildlife Biology at the Government Arts College in Udhagamandalam.

A reason for the decline in the Sigur plateau is that in the 1980s and 90s, people reared cattle in pens. After the carnivores preyed on their cattle, the farmers would poison whatever remained of the carcasses of cattle. Other carnivores that came to prey on cattle, and other wildlife such as the striped hyenas and vulture also died after eating the poisoned remains, he explained.

Mr. Ramakrishnan believed that there might be around 30 individuals in the Sigur plateau with the numbers steadily increasing each year.

Deputy Director of MTR (Buffer Zone) L.C.S. Srikanth said striped hyenas usually lived alone, and were extremely difficult to spot due to their reclusive nature. He said that though studies had yet to be done to ascertain the population of the species, individuals had recently been spotted in forest ranges in the MTR buffer zone.

“Camera trap images from 2012 to 2020 reveal that the striped hyena population is very restricted to the North Eastern Slope (NES) and Segur forest ranges.  In 2019-20, 13 Striped hyena individuals were recorded using camera traps in Segur and NES Ranges. In Masinagudi Range, Striped hyena movement was recorded in Avarallah beat bordering Segur Range between 2012 and 2014, while it was then absent from Masinagudi Range for the next five years, before being spotted again in 2018,” said Mr. Srikanth. “Recently, from the end of December onwards, the species is once again being seen with increasing frequency in portions of the Masinagudi Range which is far away from their established habitats in the Sigur and NES Ranges,”  

Field Director of MTR, K.K. Kaushal said more sightings could be a sign of the population increasing.

“This could be due to a number of factors, including better protection of carnivores such as tigers, which in turn would mean more food availability for species such as vultures and hyenas that scavenge on tiger kills,” said Mr. Kaushal. Elimination of illegal tourism and lack of disturbance in the buffer zone could also be contributing to the species expanding to newer areas, he said.

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