Lebanon: Unfit for Habitation, Even for Hyenas
By: Bassam Alkantar
Published Sunday, July 29, 2012
After negotiations that lasted a year and a half, the Lebanese ministry of environment agreed to a request from Animals Lebanon to relocate two Lebanese hyenas to France. There they will be re-settled in a special nature reserve.
Many Lebanese people dream of emigrating to France. This dream has now come true for a creature around whom the Lebanese have weaved many a myth. Hyenas today are classified as a near threatened species.
The striped Lebanese hyena has for decades been subject to unjustified hostility. People kill it because they are afraid of it, not realizing its importance in maintaining environmental balance and biological diversity and its role in cleaning the environment where humans live, disposing of dead animals and garbage.
In 2011, Animals Lebanon succeeded in saving two hyenas from captivity. Since then, they have been kept at a closed zoo in the town of Ansar in the Sour region where the organization has paid for their living expenses until a permanent solution is found for them.
Experts have ruled out the possibility of releasing the two hyenas into the wild because they have been encaged since they were born, and do not have the training needed for living free.
Experts believe that being in cages inside a zoo has made the hyenas unafraid of people. They lack the instinct to defend themselves in case of danger, a skill that is learned automatically by watching the mother during the early years of an animal’s life.
Animals Lebanon’s network of international relations allowed them to reserve a place for the hyenas in Reserve de la Haute Touche in France after procuring the approval of the reserve’s director Roland Simon. The organization promised the ministry of environment that it would pay for transport expenses from Lebanon to France and asked that the ministry approve the relocation.
The ministry issued a decree on 30 November 2011 preventing Animals Lebanon from transporting the hyenas to France. It justified its decision by saying that “these two hyenas are indigenous to Lebanon, belong to a near threatened species and are placed on the red list of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.”
The ministry also added: “The fact that this animal lives alone, not in packs, and feeds on dead plants and animals and does not rely on hunting for food makes the process of its adaptation in nature after captivity easier than other kinds of animals, that is why the two hyenas should be released back into the wild.”
The president of Animals Lebanon, Lana Khalil, told Al-Akhbar that the organization was shocked by the ministry’s decision, especially given that the field inspection conducted by ministry employees of the two hyenas was a formality that did not include medical exams, and they are unable to evaluate the reaction of the hyenas to life in the wild.
The organization wanted to prove to Minister of Environment Nazem Khoury that releasing the hyenas back into the wild in Lebanon is the wrong decision and that re-homing the two Lebanese hyenas in a nature reserve in France will not affect the number of hyenas in the wild, particularly because their chance of survival would be low, as confirmed by a scientific report issued by Lawrence Frank from Berkeley University in California who cautioned against their release.
After Animals Lebanon prepared documents, papers and reports that prove the validity of its position, it met with Minister Khoury last January along with the head of the veterinary department for Arab land animals threatened with extinction in Sharjah, Ann Bass, who came to conduct medical examinations of the two hyenas at the request of the organization.
In her report, Bass found that the teeth of one hyena are broken, which affect its ability to chew food and it has inflammation in the lungs. The report also revealed that the other hyena has liver inflammation and deficiency in its immunity system resulting from malnutrition. The expert concluded in her report that “the two hyenas should not be released into the wild in light of their health, psychological and behavioral states.”
After going back and forth for more than an hour, the minister of environment approved the organization’s request to re-home the two hyenas in France, but asked the organization to renew the pledge from the nature reserve that proves it is willing to receive the hyenas, a request that proved difficult.
After nearly five months, another nature reserve in France agreed to take the two hyenas. This reserve sent a veterinarian to Lebanon who conducted new medical exams. While awaiting the final report from France, the two hyenas are expected to leave to Paris in mid-September.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.