Many Christians give up meat for Lent, a practice that indirectly affects…hyenas, believe it or not. [Gidey Yirga et al., "Adaptability of large carnivores to changing anthropogenic food sources: diet change of spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) during Christian fasting period in northern Ethiopia," Journal of Animal Ecology]
In northern Ethiopia, hyenas have become accustomed to scavenging meat that humans throw away. However, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians go vegan for the 55 days before Easter.
Scientists wondered whether the human dietary change affected the behavior of local hyenas. At three different sites where hyenas scavenge from humans, the researchers swept up hyena droppings. They collected samples as the fast began, when it ended 55 days later and then again 55 days after the regular diet resumed.
Based on animal fur found in the scat, the researchers discovered that the hyenas hunt more during Lent, when meaty leftovers from human meals are scarcer. Which is bad news for donkeys.
Before Lent, about 15 percent of hair in hyena scat samples came from hunted donkeys. During Lent, the number more than doubled. And donkey meals decreased again after the end of Lent. That’s when the people resume eating meat and the hyenas go back to scavenging free lunches—giving the hyenas the last laugh, while the donkeys breathe a sigh of relief.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]