Always looking for animals

Sam, Katy, and Noggs in Africa


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News from the hyaena’s Mouth: Part 3

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So there is one last exciting tidbit of hyaena related news…

On March 7th we caught and collared a second brown hyaena, a male called Chomma. Chomma means friend in South African slang. He had a small cut on his foot where he was caught but the vet treated it and he will heal soon. He was caught very early in the morning so we were able to get some nice photos from the processing before he was released again early the same day.

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Noeks and I have been out tracking Chomma and Betton at night. They have been able to hear the VHF signal from their collars but haven’t got close enough yet to download the GPS information…

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News From the Hyaena’s Mouth: PART 2

Hi again. If you read the blog post News From the Hyaena’s Mouth: PART 1 then you should have an idea about the aims of the brown hyaena research at Lajuma. But what’s been going on so far?? I’m glad you asked…

1) A new assistant

At the end of last year I fundraised to support a local research assistant who would help with the brown hyaena research. On February 11th, Noeks joined our team. Noeks’ family owns a property in the Soutpansberg Mountains where we have some camera traps stationed so she knows the region well. She is aiming to achieve her FGASA (The Field Guides Association of Southern Africa) level 3 qualification and is using her time at Lajuma to expand her knowledge of the bush. Noeks is also going to help me learn some Afrikaans! A big thank you goes to everyone who donated money towards Noeks’ placement with me.

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2) The first brown hyaena was caught and collared.

On the night of February 24th an adult female brown hyaena was caught in one of our foot traps. She was lured in by a fetid chicken (thanks Kyle!). We have named her Betton.

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We were able to immobilise her safely and while she was under we took genetic samples which we will share with the Brown Hyaena Project at Mankwe Wildlife Reserve. We fitted her with a GPS collar which she will wear for the next year and a half. At that point the collar drops off automatically. The collar will provide information about her home range, activity patterns, her den location and how much time she spends in human dominated landscapes.

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We have three more hyaena collars to affix. We hope to get another one on soon and the other two on later in the year.

3) Talking to people

A big aspect of the research is to gain information from the local people which will enable us to understand their dynamic relationships, both good and bad, with the brown hyaena.  Since December I have been making contacts and connections. This month Noeks and I are planning on piloting interviews and taking initial ethnographic data. Very exciting. 

4) Spots too

Although this research project focuses on brown hyaenas, we photographed a lone spotted hyaena on one of the camera traps on February 26th. The last spotted hyaena we recorded was December 2011 so we are pleased to see another individual passing through.

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News From the Hyaena’s Mouth: PART 1

Hi everyone. It’s Katy here. We have heaps to catch you up on (our honeymoon in Japan, all the exciting trapping news…) but first I want to share two blog posts about my PhD aims and progress so far.

In October 2012 I began my PhD on human-brown hyaena relationships in the Soutpansberg Mountains. I was extremely lucky to gain financial support for the research from Durham University, individuals who supported my SciFund Challenge funding bid and an independent donor from the states.

I stayed in Durham for the first 2.5 months of my PhD and used this time to review relevant literature and gain advice from my supervisors which enabled me to prepare for the fieldwork.

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Since December I have been very busy both in my role as Field Team Leader for the Primate and Predator Project but also with my PhD research. I want to use this blog post as an opportunity to update readers with the aim of the research. So here’s an abstract about what I am aiming to achieve:

In southern Africa the brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea), a nocturnal and seldom seen carnivore, is perceived from a wide variety of contrasting social perspectives. The animal is viewed both through imaginary constructs stemming from folklore, symbolism, and associations with witchcraft, and more direct, but potentially misconceived, experiences of human-wildlife conflict through losses of livestock (St John et al., 2011; Thorn et al., 2012). The majority of commonly held viewpoints personify hyaenas as sneaky and destructive animals (Glickman, 1995; Kruuk, 2002; Morris, 1998, 2000). Consequently at my study site in the Soutpansberg Mountains in Limpopo Province, South Africa hyaenas experience deliberate persecution from landowners who believe that their livelihoods are at risk from depredation.

The increasing anthropogenic threats facing brown hyeanas are poorly understood (Hofer and Mills, 1998). When compounded with a lack of data on the species’ distribution, ecology, and behaviour, it is apparent that greater knowledge of this species’ ecology and role in human society is vital to ensure its survival.

This study aims to marry a biological investigation of brown hyaena density, diet, and foraging behaviour with social science research into human-hyaena relations. GPS collaring will be used to ascertain home range estimates and land use types frequented. Camera trapping and scat analysis will be employed to estimate density and dietary preference. As very few data exist on brown hyaenas living in mountainous environments, it is anticipated that this study will reveal new ecological information about the species.

An ethnographic study of local people of African descent and questionnaires posed to locals of European descent will examine human-animal relations with a specific focus on hyaenas. Additionally the practice of naming and anthropomorphising individual animals by different cultural groups will be investigated. This information will be used to determine whether the application of this practice by researchers in communication with communities is a successful conservation tool to improve human relations with brown hyaenas and other carnivores.

References:

Glickman, S.E. (1995) The spotted hyena from Aristotle to the Lion King: reputation is everything. Social Research 62, 501-537.

Hofer, H. and Mills, G.L. (1998) Population size, threats and conservation status of hyaenas, In Hyaenas. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. pp. 64 – 79. IUCN/SSC Hyaena Specialist Group, Gland and Cambridge.

Kruuk, H. (2002) Hunter and hunted: relationships between carnivores and people. Cambridge University Press, New York.

Morris, B. (1998) The power of animals: An ethnography. Berg, New York.

Morris, B. (2000) Animals and ancestors: an ethnography. Berg, Oxford.

St John, F.A.V., Keane, A.M., Edwards-Jones, G., Jones, L., Yarnell, R.W. and Jones, J.P.G. (2011) Identifying indicators of illegal behaviour: carnivore killing in human-managed landscapes. Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1 – 9.

Thorn, M., Green, M., Dalerum, F., Bateman, P.W. and D.M., S. (2012) What drives human–carnivore conflict in the North West Province of South Africa? Biological Conservation 150, 23 – 32.