Using data from a range of sources, the project has been involved with gathering presence/absence data on brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) from approximately 150 sites across the North West Province to calculate a density estimate for the area. This allows continual refining of population estimates and the current conservation status, as well as development of higher resolution distribution maps for the species. The information has already helped update the IUCN Red List status of brown hyena.
The project recorded 615 hyena latrines and carried out 46 call-ins resulting in sightings of 9 brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea), 22 lions, 30 jackals and one caracal in 2008. To assess nocturnal activity the team completed 270 km of night spotlighting and 45 camera trap nights at Mankwe. The project took a step forward by collaring another brown hyena in Pilanesberg, bringing the total to three.
In 2009-2010, spotlighting and latrine surveys were continued, which are contributing to a comprehensive data set that can be used to undertake spatial and temporal analysis on sightings and latrine deposition. Camera trapping studies have been extended and developed which, along with radio-tracking and DNA analysis, will give an excellent picture of the ecology, behaviour and population structure of brown hyenas in the two different areas. Camera trap images are also being utilized as evidence in the prosecution of poachers.
Drag baiting with the camera traps is proving very successful and the project is now close to having sufficient data to give detailed accounts of the numbers and distribution of brown hyenas at Pilanesberg National Park (PNP), which can be used as a base line to validate other methods.
DNA analysis is being carried out on 90 collected anal pastes. The aim is to refine the technique for brown hyena, as to date there are no specific markers for the species. A second aim is to see whether DNA can be obtained from samples other than blood and tissue, i.e. pastes, hair or faeces. The data should reveal much about the genetic variability of the animals inside and outside of protected areas, which is important to ensure they do not become isolated. It will also produce information on population viability inside protected areas, and whether or not action to improve this is necessary to ensure long term survival.
Ninety nine landowner questionnaires in the northwest province were undertaken by PhD student Michelle Thorn. This data is helping the project scientists identify any necessary modifications to their research relating to brown hyena ecology and conservation. Results from the questionnaires will also help identify and quantify the levels of persecution of brown hyena in an unprotected area and provide more detail on current threats in the region.
This project has seen significant increase in community involvement over the years. In January 2010, Earthwatch volunteers helped to develop classroom resources and extend local community participation and involvement in the project. A total of 213 children from four different local schools visited the project to learn more about carnivores and conservation in their area.
Three peer reviewed scientific publications relating to the project were produced in 2009. One considers which methods can and should be used for wider monitoring of hyenas; another looks at the diet in comparison to other carnivores in the area; and the third investigates the use of camera traps for estimating occupancy of hyenas. This information is helping to achieve a better picture of the distribution, habitat requirements and population density of hyenas across the region which, in turn, helps to inform the conservation assessment and status of the species.
Thorn M., Scott, D.M., Green, M., Bateman, P., Cameron, E. (2009) Estimating brown hyaena occupancy using baited camera traps. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 39(1):1-10
Thorn, M., Scott, D., Green, M., Bateman, P., Cameron, E. & Yarnell, R. (2010) Comparative Efficacy of Sign Surveys, Spotlighting and Audio Playbacks in a Landscape-Scale Carnivore Survey. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 40(1):77-86
Van der Merwe, I., Tambling C., Thorn, M., Scott, D., Yarnell, R., Green, M., Cameron , E. & Bateman, P. (2009) Determining diet composition and overlap of three carnivores by scat analysis. African Zoology. 44 (2): 288-291.
Wiesel, I., Maude, G., Scott, D. & Mills, G. (2008) Hyaena brunnea. In: IUCN 2008. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Available at www.iucnredlist.org