Zambezi National Park Hyena Project Update
November 19 2015

Within Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park, an ALERT research team have been following the ‘Chamabondo’ clan, a group of hyena that includes ‘CH812’.  A collared adult female, she is currently suckling one of the sub-adult members of this clan, which consists, we believe, of 11 members.

Hyena 1

The team have had three recent visual sightings of CH812, although her signal has been picked up many times from within a ridge to the north of the Chamabonda vlei, the location of the clan’s den, on which she appears to be spending considerable time during the day.  The first visual sighting was made in the open grassland within the vlei itself, when she was observed returning to the den.  She was accompanied by two other adult hyenas which may hold a more dominant position in the clan as she was following them.

The other two visual sightings were made on two consecutive nights when she was seen drinking from borehole 3 (4.3km from the den) during the early hours of the evening.  A few days later, when a group of 3 adult hyenas and 1 sub-adult was observed near borehole 2 (3.2km from the den), a strong signal of CH812 was received within that area, although no visual sighting of her was made. 

Hyena 2

The same day, upon arriving at the den, the research team observed one other adult hyena leaving the den. She may have been suckling one of the three juveniles which are currently utilizing the den. Zebras were grazing around the den site and a few meters away two juvenile and one sub-adult hyena were seen resting by some holes. Once the zebras moved off they then ran back to the den. At one point, three porcupines were observed entering one of the entrance holes to the hyena den, but they never came out again during the observation. No hyenas exited the den either.

During a recent late afternoon research session, a pride of 6 lions (1 male, 2 females and 3 cubs) were observed at borehole 3.  As the females and cubs were drinking 3 hyenas (2 adults and 1 sub-adult) also arrived from the west to have a drink. After watching the lions for a while only one of the adult hyenas was brave enough to make an attempt to approach the water, but did not seem to notice the male lion, which was hiding in the nearby tree line.

Hyena 3

As the hyena attempted to have drink the male lion stalked it and nearly caught it, after an unsuccessful chase. The hyenas failed to get a good drink, but before they exited the area a herd 6 elephants arrived for a drink. The hyenas took advantage of their presence, managing to use them as cover from the lions to approach the water.

Hyena 4

This form of competitive interaction between lions and hyenas is referred to as ‘interference competition’; the direct negative effect resulting from one species preventing the other from obtaining resources. Competition can have profound effects on populations, resulting in behavioural responses, changes in space and habitat use, reductions in population size and even local extinction.  However, competing species can live sympatrically through resource partitioning that promote coexistence. A competitively inferior species can escape competition by using different areas; finding empty patches (spatial avoidance) or using the same patch but at different times (temporal avoidance).

Spotted hyena and lion distributions overlap extensively throughout Africa, sharing nearly 95% of their range. This overlap is likely to increase as both species become restricted to protected areas. This project is focussed on monitoring spotted hyenas, however, as Zambezi National Park is a savannah area with a broad variety of predators and prey, the study offers significant opportunities to study coexistence of large carnivores; the Park supports hyena, lion, leopard, African wild dog and cheetah, as well as many smaller carnivores. The two dominant carnivores have profound impacts on other carnivore species.  

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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If you are interested in joining the research team to assist collect data on these predators, you can do so as a volunteer, or as a conservation research intern.  Click the links for more information.

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