Botswana

Okavango

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Tracking Snaggle’s surprise itinerary

Tracking Snaggle’s surprise itinerary

Tracking Snaggle’s surprise itinerary
Chloe Destremau

Spotted hyaena exhibit extensive behavioural variation across ecosystems. Aspects of their behaviour, such as clan size, foraging pattern and intra-predator interaction, vary depending on the population. 

 

In the Okavango Delta, we are investigating the regional specificities of spotted hyaena behaviour within the context of our long-term predator research programme. Although highly nocturnal and secretive in this study area, a combination of direct observation and remote monitoring has begun to shed light on this unique species.

 

The behaviour of a recently radio-collared hyaena has provided insight into the complexity of clan coexistence and territorial overlap in this ecosystem. One day, a member of our research team came across a very well-habituated hyaena resting within two kilometres of our field camp. 

 

This individual had recently been seen feeding on an elephant carcass alongside, though submissive to, known (lone) members of the local hyaena clan. We deployed a high-resolution GPS collar developed by the Royal Veterinary College (University of London) on this individual, who, due to a prominent lower canine, I named ‘Snaggle’. 

 

About one week later, I tracked Snaggle and found him in the southern section of our study area, which I found to be unusual for the local clan. In subsequent weeks, I failed to find a predictable pattern of Snaggle’s movements, and struggled to relocate him on a regular basis. 

 

Finally, aerial support from Dr.Tico McNutt located Snaggle 32km from where he was last seen, far northwest in Moremi Game Reserve where the local clan does not normally travel. When examining the downloaded GPS data from Snaggle’s collar, we were surprised to discover that he spends the majority of his time in this section of Moremi. In the days before his collaring, Snaggle had likely moved south from Moremi to feed on the elephant carcass near our field camp, and is in fact not a member of the local clan at all.

 

The data from Snaggle’s collar reveals interesting information about his movements outside his territory. He has made three trips along the river towards the veterinary fence, each time travelling 40km over 24 to 48 hours.Only time and further observations will be able to reveal the full meaning of these ventures. Is he a dispersing male from the local clan, which is why they tolerated him at a carcass? Are large carcasses driving his forays south of the buffalo fence?

 

Is Snaggle exhibiting behaviour normal for hyaena in this ecosystem? Thus far, sightings of uncollared individuals show that Snaggle’s behaviour is not unusual, as several hyaena have been seen travelling far distances from their typical territories. Clan associations and movement patterns of Okavango hyaen aappear to be quite complex, and further study will help us to understand more about their behaviour.

 

FACT FILE

 

Okavango Delta spotted hyaena

Botswana Predator Conservation Trust

 

2006-2008: The Botswana Wild Dog Research Project expands its research mission to encompass the entire large predator guild, becoming a conservation research organisation called the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust.

 

2008-2010: PhD student Gabriele Cozzi begins focused research on Okavango hyaena. His project used data from GPS collars to examine habitat use and spatial segregation between spotted hyaena, African wild dog and lion. Calling stations were conducted to estimate the density of hyaena in various habitats of this ecosystem. He found that hyaena densities do not vary significantly between habitat types, with an average overall density estimate of 14.4 hyaena per 100 km2 (Cozzi et. al, 2013).

 

2012-2013: Research assistants develop a photo identification database to document all sighted (ie: photographed) hyaena in the study area. A combination of previous data and current sightings amounted to 183 identified individuals, but this was not a complete picture of the study population.

 

2014-present: PhD student Jessica Vitale begins her study examining hyaena social dynamics and the role of hyaena within an intact large predator guild. After only eight months of fieldwork and detailed examination of past sightings data, the number of identified individuals within the study area has almost doubled to 349 individuals (and counting!)

 

Further research efforts will examine the factors influencing hyaena encounters with other large predator species in this ecosystem. This research is funded by the University of Nottingham, National Geographic Society Conservation Trust, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo/Cleveland Zoological Society, Roger Williams Park Zoo, Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund, IdeaWild and Wilderness Wildlife Trust.