In Azizpur village in Kosi Kalan, Mathura district, the humdrum of daily life is rarely ever disturbed. Yet, on 28th December 2022, an unexpected visitor with a bad reputation set the tranquil village in disarray. An Indian striped hyena was spotted prowling an agriculture field. Rumours about the hyena’s vicious nature spread like wildfire. Some speculated it to be a ruthless predator while others even declared it to be the mount of a witch! Determined to protect their village, a few locals attempted to chase the hyena away. Fearful of the crowd, the hyena ended up crawling inside a narrow dry culvert. As the villagers watched the notorious predator quiver with fear, they reassessed the assumptions they had made about it. In a dilemma about how to deal with the situation, they immediately contacted the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department who in turn contacted Wildlife SOS for reinforcement.
Five members from the Wildlife SOS Rapid Response Unit immediately made their way to Azizpur to assist in the rescue operation. As they arrived at the location, they found a large crowd of villagers surrounding the culvert. The team immediately implemented crowd control measures while simultaneously talking to the villagers about the hyena and dispelling common myths.
By the time the entryway to the culvert was cleared, the sun had set, leaving the Wildlife SOS team under the dim light of the moon to finish their rescue operation. With the help of torch lights, the team confirmed the hyena’s position. To encourage it to leave the culvert, they blocked one exit and placed a transport cage on the other end. Having rescued hyenas and even leopards from culverts in the past, the Wildlife SOS team knew that the task at hand required patience. After two long hours, the hyena emerged from hiding, shyly entering the transport cage. A close inspection revealed that the individual was a male, aged approximately 6 years old.
The frail hyena was transported to the Wildlife SOS Rescue Centre for medical examination. Our veterinary officer examined it for any bruises or abnormalities. Once deemed fit, the hyena was released back into its natural habitat.
Hyenas have been an integral part of the landscape of Uttar Pradesh, navigating the state’s rugged terrain with stealth. However, as Uttar Pradesh rapidly expands its urban stronghold, the hyena finds itself navigating the labyrinth of an urban jungle. With their natural territory and prey base rapidly dwindling, hyenas are forced to venture close to human settlements for survival.
Incidents of hyenas being stuck in culverts are not uncommon. Culverts are essentially structures that help channel water past an obstacle. Typically built under roads and highways in India, these tunnel-like pipes are common hiding places for wild animals. In August 2020, a hyena was spotted in Nagla Jairam village located near the Agra-Gwalior highway. Panicked at the sight of these elusive creatures, villagers attempted to chase the hyena away. As the misunderstood animal sought refuge, it found itself inside a culvert. The Wildlife SOS team rescued the hyena by using food as bait to lure it out. The hyena was safely rescued and released back into its natural habitat.
Threatened by a Bad Reputation
The unusual physical appearance of the Indian striped hyena has made this elusive creature the centre of various misconceptions and myths. In the folklore of some cultures, they are perceived to be animals on which witches ride, and they are looked down upon as scavengers by many, which is why the hyena’s bad reputation precedes it. Negative attitudes towards hyenas tangibly impact their survival, as has been seen in the rescue conducted in Azizpur village. Wildlife SOS has also previously rescued hyenas who have been victims of mob attacks, road accidents, and hunting traps. The misbeliefs surrounding the animal further hinder conservation efforts, taking away the vital role they play in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The scavenging habits of hyenas help get rid of biological waste and also act as pest control. Today, the number of hyenas is rapidly declining. They are listed as ‘Near Threatened’ in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red Data List.
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