Striped hyaena settling in Dghoumes National Park, Tunisia

October 13, 2022

The striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena) is among the largest of North Africa’s remaining carnivores but its elusive nature makes it extremely difficult to observe. Despite anecdotal reports that it still existed in Tunisia’s Dghoumes National Park (NP), the protected area approximately 37 miles from the oasis town of Tozeur, it was not detected by surveys until camera traps were set up in the park in 2018 to monitor wildlife.

Dghoumes NP is of great interest as it represents one of the most promising conservation sites for aridland fauna in Tunisia. In 2007, following 12 years of Tunisian efforts to restore the natural landscape in the NP, Marwell Wildlife collaborated with Tunisia’s Direction Générale des Forêts and other international partners to reintroduce scimitar-horned oryx  to Dghoumes NP, the fourth release site for the species in Tunisia.

As part of the post release monitoring efforts for scimitar-horned oryx, a large network of camera traps has been deployed in the park for the last four years, thus allowing the monitoring of reintroduced antelopes and other fauna sharing their habitat. This tool offers a unique insight into the park’s richness and provides a great opportunity to study the medium- and large-bodied species that cohabit this complex aridland ecosystem, including the striped hyaena.

Like many other carnivores, hyaenas are victims of targeted persecution through hunting or poisoning, or accidentally killed on roads near human habitations and farming settlements. Even though they mainly scavenge, their presence is often misinterpreted as a direct threat to people and livestock, and this contributed to their sharp population decline since the end of the 20th century. The striped hyaena is now considered rare across Tunisia, and no confirmed sightings were reported in southern Tunisia for at least two decades.

The camera traps in Dghoumes revealed the presence of striped hyaenas when the first photos were taken in December 2018. 2019 again showed that this species visited the park, but in 2020 and 2021 an increasing number of photos were taken over six months in each year. Overall, 20 photos of at least two different animals were recorded indicating that striped hyaenas were becoming increasingly sedentary in Dghoumes NP.

These results represent a significant step toward the wildlife conservation and habitat restoration as they indicate that there is a large enough prey base to support a striped hyaena’s territory in the park. These scavengers are ecologically important as they help recycle nutrients and reduce opportunities for disease spread thus maintaining a healthier, functioning ecosystem.

We would like to thank Tunisia’s Direction Générale des Forêts for their crucial collaboration for conservation in Tunisia as well as Dublin Zoo, Safari Parc Monde Sauvage, Parco Faunistico Le Cornelle, Wrocław Zoo Foundation DODO, Branféré Parc Animalier et Botanique, and Artis Amsterdam Royal Zoo for their support for the monitoring work in Tunisia.

If you would like to read more, please see: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0030605322000837