Searching for the Clan
April 9 2016

As the wet season progressed in western Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park, research on for the hyena project became challenging.  The hyenas could not be seen at times because the terrain and poor roads made access impossible.  Cubs would be seen at the den, but not the adults (it is not uncommon for cubs to be left alone for quite long periods), and then the cubs would change to a different den for reasons we don’t understand yet.  Also, because it’s a big clan with approximately 13 members, with different hyena seen on different days, the team started to wonder if individuals seen really belonged to the clan being monitored, and as of now the whole clan appears to have moved to a different and as yet unknown den site.  


Whilst the search continues as to the location of the clan, ALERT has managed to acquire two GPS/Satellite collars for collaring hyenas that will help the research effort greatly going forward.  The team, led my ALERT CEO Dr. Norman Monks, embarked on a collaring exercise within the Chamabondo vlei, location of the last known den used by our focus clan, with the hopes of being able to collar one of the members.  

Because hyenas tend to run back into their dens when they are darted, the use of a trapping method is widely used as it results in lower risks to the hyena during the collaring process.

Setting the trap

On the first attempt the trap was set, with meat inside as bait.  The team waited for hours, during which time two hyenas were seen.  Close to midnight the team retired, leaving the trap open in case the hyenas would get interested in the trap or the meat inside.

Early the following morning the team returned to the trap, but unfortunately the trap was empty and the bait remained untouched.  No hyenas were in the immediate area and so the team disabled the trap and left it to try again in that evening.  Driving away the team saw a clan of hyena in another part of the vlei and so decided to change the location of the trap.  That evening the trap was set again and the waiting resumed.  Unfortunately, for the second time, no hyena showed interest and again the team decided to leave the trap until the next morning.

Next day the trap remained empty, however the team discovered many vultures and an elephant carcass (cause of death appeared to be natural) nearby, leading the team to hypothesize that the hyenas were feeding on the dead elephant and had enough to eat.

So, it was back to the drawing board.  Data from our large predator occupancy survey was reviewed and a different potential collaring site selected.  The trap was moved and left covered with tree branches and leaves.  The trap was left open, but not set, with meat inside so the hyena could get used to it.  The collaring attempts resume this week with high hopes of success this time …

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.

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