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Saturday, April 10, 1999 Published at 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK

World: Africa

Field of carnivorous conflict

Lions have inflicted heavy casualties on the rival hyenas

By Richard Lee in Addis Ababa

With the war against Eritrea still far from finished, Ethiopia now finds itself the scene of another conflict - but this time there are no human casualites.

A battle in the east of the country has seen lions and hyenas sustain heavy losses in a battle for territory.

Fighting broke out over a week ago when hyenas and a pride of lions clashed in the Gobele desert, close to the district of Girawa, 450km east of Addis Ababa. Since then, fierce battles have raged every night as the age old enemies have fought tooth and nail.

Night fighting

Explaining how the merciless combat is conducted, the zonal police's head of public relations, Corporal Seyum Degva, said that during the day the beasts lurk in their dens, waiting for the sun to set.

When darkness falls, they emerge and begin their deadly fight. He added that the hyenas have so far sustained heavy casualties.

Lions have the advantage

Analysts say that in any sustained conflict the smaller hyenas are always likely to incur more losses - despite possessing jaws which can crunch their way through elephant bones.

According to the latest figures, at least 30 hyenas and six lions have been killed since the battles commenced nine days ago.

Fortunately, there seems little chance of any people being caught up in the bitter fray since, as the police stressed, the combat zone is far away from human settlement.

Territorial struggle

Prevailing drought conditions probably played a part in igniting the war, although animal experts say that clashes between the competing carnivores are invariably sparked off by disputes over territory. It remains unclear when the fighting will finally cease.

Indeed, Corporal Seyum sees no hope of any imminent peaceful resolution to the bloody conflict between the lions and hyenas, claiming that it is currently impossible to bring the noisy, fierce fight to an end.

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