Hyenas Eat Donkeys For Lent

In Ethiopia, hyenas normally just eat whatever they can scavenge from the garbage leftoutside of inhabited areas. But what happens when there are no meat leftovers in the garbage due to the strict Ethiopian Orthodox Lent? Let’s just say you wouldn’t want to be a donkey:

Hyenas will eat just about anything organic. They’ll chow down on mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. And it doesn’t matter whether those critters are living or dead. Or rotten. Or infected with anthrax. Hyenas are also known to dine on garbage and dung. This doesn’t mean they’re not skilled hunters. In fact, in the Maasai Mara ecosystem in Kenya, they hunt as much as ninety-five percent of their food. But when there are humans around, it is perhaps a better strategy to rely on scavenging.

The neighborhoods around the northern Ethiopian regional capital of Mekelle, is a very poor area. Despite the high levels of poverty and the scarcity of resources, inhabitants of the region adhere strictly to the religious restrictions pertaining to meat eating. “The remains of slaughtered animals and all redundant pack animals are always left at the nearest convenient site, usually simply just outside the people’s compounds,” Yirga writes.

That all changes, though, during the 55 days leading up to Easter, when members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church give up meat for a holiday known as Abye Tsome or Hudade. Biologist Gidey Yirga and colleagues wondered what effect the reduced supply of meat during Abye Tsome might mean for the hyenas that rely on human table scraps to survive the rest of the year.

They collected 553 samples of hyena scat and analyzed the hairs found inside each sample to determine which animals made up each hyena’s last feast. While the hyenas dined on all manner of beast prior to and after the holiday – sheep, horses, cattle, goats, and more – they mainly fed on donkeys during the fast period itself. Yirga notes that, unlike other livestock, “donkeys are kept outside the compound at night, and weak donkeys are abandoned altogether, which makes them a relatively easy food source.”

Read the whole thing. (Gross nature picture warning.)

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Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.