Regardless of whether you’re in a world-renowned safari destination such as South Africa’s Kruger National Park or the Serengeti in Tanzania, coming across predators in the bush always gets the blood pumping. But sometimes these sightings just hit home a little harder, especially when Anthony Chikwemba, Park Manager at Nyika National Park in Malawi, managed to capture on camera a lone spotted hyena on his morning drive. Although it’s not uncommon to hear the whooping call of the hyena in Nyika at night, it is always exciting to see these apex predators out in the open during the day, and serves as a fantastic reminder that the work being done in Nyika by Peace Parks Foundation and partners is certainly headed in the right direction.
The presence of hyena in Nyika is an important indicator that Nyika’s healthy ecosystem has the ability to support Africa’s top predators. In 1969, Ian Gordon recounts some of his most memorable sightings during his time as Nyika’s Senior Game Warden, “The wonderful beauty of the wildflowers when the rains started, with acres of orchids in the dambos. The sight of numerous eyes in the torchlight outside the back door: usually jackals and hyenas inspecting our chickens!” Although still present, the population of these animals have dwindled in recent years due to increased pressure on their habitat and food sources as well as being the unintended victims of poaching snares.
Unfortunately, spotted hyenas have suffered a rather bad reputation with thanks to animated children’s films but be assured that these great carnivores are as impressive as their predator counterparts, and are accomplished hunters with roughly two-thirds of their diet consisting of direct kills.
Hyena also play an important role in the ecosystem by being both accomplished hunters and skilled scavengers, and just as other top predators, help to keep the strongest gene pool alive amongst general game by preying on the weak and injured. Although their scavenging attributes are shrouded in negativity, it serves an important biological role by helping to keep the environment disease-free through the consumption of rotting carrion as well as spreading nutrients, such as calcium and phosphorus, into the soil through their dung.
Nyika is certainly a place like no other with its high-altitudinal rolling grasslands and lush green forests that line the riverways, and so it is no wonder that this big five conservation area is included in the Global 200 Ecoregions, comprising of the most outstanding and representative habitats for biodiversity on the planet. Its green grasses and vegetation make it a highly suitable environment for large herds of herbivores such as roan antelope, zebra and eland to name a few. These herds provide a rich food source that can sustain a large population of predators, which we hope to see grow in the next few years. Stay tuned to Peace Parks TV to see more updates from Nyika.