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Hyenas Adapt to Lent Fasting in Ethiopia

Hyenas Fast for Lent

New research published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Animal Ecology has found that Hyenas adapt to habitats with dense human population.

Hyenas eat anything from birds, mammals, fish and reptiles to garbage, cooked porridge and dung. Their digestive systems match and prove what they eat.

Gidey Yirga from Mekelle University says, “Hyenas can eat almost any organic matter, even putrid carrion and anthrax-infected carcasses. They are capable of eating and digesting all parts of their prey except hair and hooves. Bones are digested so completely that only the inorganic components are excreted in the hyena’s droppings.”

With Hyenas living around humans in a dense area of Ethiopia, it’s been shown that humans aren’t the only ones giving up certain foods for Lent. In Ethiopia, members of the Orthodox Tewahedo Church stop eating meat and dairy products for a 55-day fast before Easter.

Gidey Yirga worked at three different sites around Mekelle in northern Ethiopia to see if Hyenas changed their eating habits during the same 55 day fast for Lent before Easter with the humans. He collected all Hyena droppings from each 1 hectare site on three occasions on the first and last days of the 55-day Abye Tsome (Lent) fast, and then again 55 days after the fast ended. With a total of 553 droppings from the Hyenas during that time.

Environmental Protection Online reported, “The results showed that when humans stop buying, eating and discarding animal products the hyenas’ eating habits change significantly: before Lent, 14.8 percent of hyena droppings contained donkey hairs, during Lent this increased to 33.1 percent, falling again to 22.2 percent once the fast was over.”

Gidey Yirga said, “Our study shows a remarkable change in the hyenas’ diet. We found that hyenas around Mekelle mainly scavenge waste from butchers and households but during fasting donkeys provided an alternative food source. Understanding details of the foraging behavior of carnivores in an anthropogenic environment can help reveal specific causes of conflict, leading to better strategies for reducing availability of anthropogenic food and preventing conflict.”

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