Mr Wajackoyah, please leave hyena and other scavengers alone!

Hyena at Impala Sanctuary in Kisumu [Peter Muiruri]

The past month has been awash with clichés and fads gracing the media space, with social media taking the lead in driving political annotations to one of the presidential candidates.

Roots Party Presidential candidate Prof George Wajackoyah’s manifesto has suggested an economic recovery plan for Kenya by commercialising the gonads of the hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and harvesting the sought-after venom from snakes for sale to Chinese markets. 

Kenyans on social media have taken up the debate from a different angle mainly for entertainment through memes and pickup lines.

The Union of Veterinary Practitioners of Kenya (UVPK) responded promptly by issuing a resounding statement disparaging the idea and calling it a recipe for epidemics that can only regrettably remind us of the Covid-19 scourge.

Its aggressive tentacles squeezed our healthcare systems by unselectively wiping out a considerable percentage of the world population through grave clinical complexities of the viral disease.

The spotted hyena is generally found widespread across Sub-Saharan Africa and is classified as a scavenger, with its habitat having other predatory competitors like the lion, cheetahs, leopards, African wild dogs and jackals among others. 

The scavengers

Though they fight off the stronger members of the cat family, they are essentially clean-up species as scavengers beside jackals, vultures and coyotes among others at different trophic levels. 

Scavengers which are scientifically defined as animals that consume carrion (decaying flesh) that has died from a predatory food chain/web or else due to natural causes have for eons supported ecological balance. They reduce residual amounts of carrion and offer an enabling capacity for decomposers which are at the bottom of the food chain.

With the debate of capitalising on the spotted hyena gonads for human consumption, the current recognition of the spotted hyena population as near threatened mostly due to degradation of savanna and range lands, commercialisation without an absolute strategy on sustainability will add it to the list of endangered species.

Of great concern is the least focused area of the role played by the spotted hyena in the pathogenesis of mostly bacterial and viral infections within their ecosystems. 

Harbour antibodies against rabies

They have been found to harbour antibodies against rabies, canine herpes, canine brucellosis, leptospirosis, anaplasmosis and parvovirus in Serengeti National Park. This is besides harbouring protozoan parasites like the Genus Hepatozoon and the parasitic cysts of Trichinella.

While studies on body titers of Brucella arbotus and Trypanosoma congolense are inconclusive, further studies on dietary infection from direct consumption of infected carcasses from herbivores, would enlighten the policymakers. 

While it may seem innovative to cash in on hyped and street-declared business ventures, the economic ramifications without concrete data on species population, ecology and niche status, evolutionary pathogenesis, the economic viability of farmed wildlife, and risk assessment of symbiotic pathogens, may end up boomeranging on our healthcare systems. 

It, therefore, justifies a comprehensive study of not just the spotted and striped hyena, but also hundreds of other scavengers targeted for exploitation through commercialisation.

This will avoid mistakes made hastily in the past to net in the top dollar-driven market in the case of the African donkey where slaughterhouses were commissioned, and licensed for the export market only for the donkey numbers to plummet at an alarming rate.

[Dr Njenga Simon Project Veterinary Officer Kenya Network for Dissemination of Agricultural Technologies (KENDAT)]

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