BERKELEY (KPIX 5) — A one-of-its-kind hyena research project at UC Berkeley has been forced to shut down, after funding for the program has been cut.
For 30 years, the hyenas’ calls echoed through the Berkeley Hills. Rarely is a TV crew allowed in to capture what happens at the school’s research colony of captive hyenas, but KPIX 5 was granted access a couple of years ago.
Now, after decades of research, the dozen hyenas left at the colony have to go. Research funding and grant money have been tough to come by for a while, and now the funding has dried up for good.
“I have seen almost every one up here being born,” said Mary Weldele, who oversees the colony that was established in 1985 with animals from Kenya.
The hyenas have been used to study everything from hormones, to immune systems, social structure and sexuality.
Weldele said the expense of keeping the hyenas, which at one time totaled 50, is immense.
“They’re carnivores. And so they eat meat and that costs a lot of money,” Weldele said.
One of the ways the colony is finding homes for the hyenas is at zoos like the Oakland Zoo. Right now they have five of the colony’s hyenas. They came here about a year and a half ago.
“They get a variety of ground meat and bones,” said Lovesong Cahill, who is in charge of the hyenas at the Oakland Zoo.
Cahill said they were aware the UC colony was in tough financial times.
“That’s was part of why we got three, new, younger hyenas. But there are still some zoos that are doing breeding. It shouldn’t be an issue of not having hyenas,” she said.
But for the colony, closing means more than finding homes for hyenas. Closing the doors means shutting down the research.
“It’s the only place like this in the world and it probably will never happen again,” Weldele said.
Researchers from all over the world have come to Berkeley to study the hyenas. Animators with Disney even spent days there to get inspiration for the hyenas in the movie “The Lion King.”