A conservation project aimed at protecting populations of threatened brown hyaenas in South Africa supported by Earthwatch is yielding some surprising results.
The project's researchers use camera traps to capture images of brown hyaenas in Pilanesberg National Park and Mankwe Wildlife Reserve in South Africa's North West province, where they are carrying out their research, from which they can identify individual animals, helping to build up a picture of population size and home ranges of the hyaenas.
The camera traps are baited with pungent smelling rotting meat to attract the hyaenas. Since the team started using this method, as well as brown hyaena, they have caught some surprising characters on camera whose curiosity has led them to check out the smelly bait - including lion, hippo and even an inquisitive aardvark!
A brown hyaena stops in front of the camera during the daytime.
However, the research team did not expect to capture images of three alleged wildlife poachers and their five dogs earlier this year. Mankwe Reserve Manager Lynne MacTavish explains: "The poachers' dogs were attracted by the bait we had put out, and the poachers followed. They triggered the motion sensors on the cameras and we handed the resulting photographs to the police. This led to the arrest of nine poachers and the confiscation of six dogs. Since then the poaching at Mankwe has been greatly reduced and we now use camera trapping as an anti-poaching method."
The camera captures lions eating a kill.
Teams of Earthwatch volunteers work alongside the researchers at Mankwe and Pilanesberg, helping with anti-poaching patrols and collecting data to help better understand the much-maligned brown hyaena. The data they collect informs strategies to protect the species and its habitat, and to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the region.
Find out how you can get involved with the South Africa's Scavenger Species project.
- Camera traps are automated cameras used to capture photographs of wildlife. They are installed in sites that rarely-seen animals are expected to visit. When a motion or infrared sensor detects the presence of an animal, a photo is taken. After a period of time, a researcher will typically return to the camera to collect the photographs. Camera traps are important tools for researching rare, shy, or nocturnal animals such as the brown hyaena.