There are currently two hyenas fitted with GPS collars as part of ALERT’s Zambezi National Park Hyena Project; one collared close to Victoria Falls town and the other further into the Park. Both collars transmit the hyena’s location four times a day, allowing us to monitor their movements and behaviour.
Data downloaded from the collars shows how each hyena utilises the park in different ways. The first hyena goes into town often, where food is readily available. Because of this, it’s range size is relatively small in comparison to the second hyena. However, it’s diet is less healthy and more likely to be harmful, for example with the presence of plastic food containers. Resources in the Park are much sparser, so the second hyena has a larger range to source the food it needs. This is a clear indication of humans altering hyena behaviour.
Additional to data from GPS collars, ALERT’s research team also goes out into the Park to visit the last point or two that the GPS transmitted, searching for physical evidence of the hyena and what it was doing there. If a signal can be picked up using VHF telemetry, the hyena is then tracked for further visual observation.
In March, poor road conditions due to heavy rainfall prevented tracking of the hyena which utilises the Park, although GPS signals allowed monitoring of its movements. The town hyena was easier to follow, with three successful tracking sessions. During one, two hyenas, including the collared one, were present at an old elephant carcass. On another occasion, the collared hyena was seen crossing a road with a different older hyena. Fur and bones from the hyena feeding on a hare were also found, along with an area where it had been resting under a tree.
In addition to tracking, two camera traps have been installed in areas of human habitation likely to attract hyena. The first location, a game trail leading into the town dump, is likely to attract hyena and other scavengers as an easy food source. The second is next to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge. Each day, the hotel puts out meat for vultures, with hyenas arriving later to feed on the remains. These are both examples of humans unintentionally providing a food source to wild animals; altering their behaviour and potentially leading to Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC).
Much anecdotal evidence exists of hyenas in Victoria Falls town from locals who have seen or heard them at night, however, the number of individuals involved in currently unknown. These cameras will allow us to document hyena activity and identify individuals based on spot pattern. This will lead to further understanding of how hyenas use human-created food sources, with a view to mitigating HWC in the future.
Since being installed, the camera at the dump has only recorded elephants. The lack of hyena activity in this area is likely due to a recently-installed fence around the dump, which may be preventing access to hyena and other smaller scavenging species. The camera at the Lodge has recorded at least one hyena scavenging leftovers from the vulture feed. We have also personally observed hyena moving through this area on two separate evenings.
An elephant heading towards the town dump
A hyena eating a bone at the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
We have also begun to conduct night drives to understand how hyena are using a human-made corridor, the Kazungula Road. Five night drives were carried out in March, during which 10 individuals were identified; seven adults and three sub-adults. When a hyena was first sighted, it’s activity was recorded. Over the 10 sightings so far, these activities were resting (laying down), travelling, feeding, exploring (actively exploring environment), and visually exploring (standing still and watching - usually us!). On two occasions, a hyena was seen eating a plastic container on the side of the road, apparently tossed out the window of a car; an obvious negative effect of humans on wildlife.
How spot pattern identification is used to identify individual hyenas
About the Zambezi National Park Hyena Project
Large mammal carnivores play an important role in maintaining a balance between the ungulate population and the environment. However, when carnivore numbers increase, certain age classes of the ungulate population can be negatively affected. Spotted hyena, contrary to popular thought, do hunt extensively and predate mainly on the juvenile age class, although they will also take down adult animals. Spotted hyena are the most common and abundant large mammal predator in many African ecosystems. In Zambezi National Park and surrounding areas it has been reported that there is little recruitment into the juvenile age class in the large ungulate population and it is hypothesized that this is due to a large spotted hyena population. In addition, reports have been received that hyena are significantly involved in livestock predation in nearby human-populated areas. To date no studies have been carried out on spotted hyena in the area and this study will look at the population dynamics of this species in the areas mentioned to obtain population size, population dynamics, recruitment, home-range, prey preference and interaction with livestock. The interaction between lions and hyena will also be studied as these two species are major competitors and are known to limit population growth within their populations. This study will be undertaken as a joint project between the Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the African Lion and Environmental Research Trust and is expected to last at least three years. At the end of the study management recommendations will be presented to ZPWMA.