Seth Mwaniki @MwanikiM
The Aberdare National Park! Calm, serene, peaceful. The tranquillity is only ripped by the occasional chirp from a bird, a hyena’s high-pitched giggle, a buffalo’s grunt or the ear-piercing trumpeting of elephants.
They are sounds of an ecosystem full of life. But amidst the quietude, a rare phenomenon is emerging —buffaloes with missing testicles.
Now numbering about 10, these horned bullies of the grasslands were born with the reproductive organs sound and healthy, until the spotted hyenas happened.
Lilian Ajuoga, a senior warden at the park, says the giggling carnivores have been hunting down young male buffaloes and ripping off their testicles.
Her team thinks the hyenas are taking up the role of king of the jungle to fill the void left by a declining number of lions in the park.
“Normally, hyenas are scavengers and prefer to feast on the left overs of bigger predators but with no lions to do the hunting for them, they are forced to do it themselves,” she says.
However, while a lion can take down an adult buffalo on its own, it would require the concerted effort of at least 10 hyenas to pull off a similar act.
And while they have the numbers, hyenas lack the skills of group-hunting and will spook off prey with their uncoordinated charge full of squeals and drool.
“Hyenas were really not created hunters yet they must eat. We suspect the young males lose their genitals while fleeing. We do not find this unusual because animals must develop an adaptation to the environment they are living in. This is what our hyenas have done to continue surviving,” she said.
Hyenas are not finicky feeders and are infamous for feasting on prey that is still alive. That and the (un)strategic location of the bull’s reproductive organs make the testicles easy picking for the powerful jaws, she adds. The imbalance of testosterone caused by loss of the balls at an early age has affected the buffaloes’ development.
“This has altered their normal growth making them grow elongated, hanging horns which has forced them to change their feeding habits grazers to browsers like giraffes,” the warder explains.
She, however, says this is not an immediate threat to buffalo population in the park. “The park has a healthy population of 4,000 buffaloes and a lower number of hyenas,” she says.
She, however, adds that a research will soon be conducted to find out the exact impact of phenomenon to the population of the buffaloes and whether this may affect their existence.