Conservation

Brown Hyena Movement, Behaviour and Abundance, and Implications for their Long-term Conservation within the Sperrgebiet

This project aims to intensively investigate the effects of diamond mining activities on the brown hyena population in the southern coastal Namib Desert. The results will substantially increase the knowledge of the behavioural and population ecology of brown hyenas in an ecologically unique ecosystem, the Succulent Karoo Biome (SKB), and will be applicable to land use planning and decision-making as new areas of the coastal Namib Desert are developed (mining and tourism industry). The research outputs will ultimately contribute to management strategies for the conservation of the brown hyena and its unique habitat.
Brown hyenas are one of the SKB flagship species. Their occurrence within this biome, an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot, is of extreme importance, especially as numerous large mammal species in this area have become extinct.

The Sperrgebiet supports four mainland seal colonies. These provide a permanent, concentrated food source and are essential for the maintenance of a healthy and viable brown hyena population as other food items are scarce. Brown hyenas are the apex predators along the coast and fill the highest trophic level in the food chain, as other large predators are absent and as they feed and prey on marine predatory mammals. This unique predator-prey ecosystem is influenced by new and existing land development.

 

In this study we (a) survey home range size, habitat use and activity patterns through GPS telemetry of coastal brown hyenas, (b) determine changes in behaviour through the analysis of GPS data in the area most likely affected by mining disturbance, and (c) gain spatial information (e.g. about location of core areas). The goal is to provide information about brown hyena behavioural ecology and the sensitive nature of their predator-prey ecosystem to reduce long-term threats and impacts posed by land use.


Human wildlife conflict with spotted hyenas around the Sperrgebiet boundary

This project aims to study the spotted hyena population in Garub area in the south-eastern corner of the Namib Naukluft Park.
Spotted hyenas were first reported in the Garub area at the beginning of the 1990s. It is assumed that they migrated into this area from the north, following the game species during a period of extreme drought. Since then, incidental sightings around the mountain Dikwillem and at the water trough at Garub have been recorded and occurrences of spotted hyena roadkills on the tar road between Aus and Luderitz indicate that it is a resident population. Farmers also reported sightings of spotted hyena spoor, although it cannot be excluded that some of these spoor were of brown hyenas. The BHRP distributed a carnivore and livestock related questionnaire to farmers in the buffer zone around the Sperrgebiet and Namib Naukluft Park in 2004. Some of the outcomes were as follows (based on the opinions of the participants):

  • Carnivores contributed considerably to cattle, calve, sheep and goat mortality (up to 70% of the losses)
  • Brown and spotted hyenas were considered a low threat, spotted hyenas occasionally a high threat to livestock
  • One brown and one spotted hyena were killed on farmland in 2003
  • All carnivore related cattle losses were attributed to spotted hyenas
  • 40% of the farmers would not tolerate spotted or brown hyenas on their farms

These results highlight the necessity to carry out a first study on the spotted hyena population in this area and also to look at the interspecific relationship between both hyena species.

The objectives of the project are to gain detailed data about spotted hyena abundance and distribution, and to evaluate true conflict with humans in the area surrounding the Parks.
The analysis of scat samples will give insight into the spotted hyena’s diet and will provide baseline information about whether livestock is consumed. Stable isotope analysis of hair samples of the captured hyenas, their potential prey species and the investigation of bone material found at den sites will give further insight into their feeding ecology.
GPS and VHF telemetry will provide data to estimate home range sizes and the analysis of their movements will indicate the frequency of possible conflict with humans on adjoining communal and farmland.
The brown hyena clans that have been studied by the BHRP so far, do not interact with the spotted hyena population around Garub, and the comparison of those brown hyena clans with the clan around Garub is of basic ecological interest for the conservation of brown hyenas along the boundary fence of the Sperrgebiet. Competition with spotted hyenas may either be positive, as their predatory behaviour may provide brown hyenas with additional carrion, or negative, as they may compete for the same niche.
Spotted hyena clan structure, foraging and hunting behaviour depends largely on the habitat, and the Garub spotted hyenas might show a different structure and behaviour than the ones in, for example, Etosha National Park. The data obtained with this study will allow a first comparative study with other Namibian spotted hyena populations.

Carnivore conflict with humans often results in financial losses. Nevertheless it is often difficult to attribute certain livestock losses to specific carnivores and objective monitoring is therefore of major importance to be able to mitigate the conflict. At present spotted hyenas are mostly not tolerated outside protected areas. It is basically unknown, whether the Garub spotted hyenas really pose a threat to livestock on adjoining farms, and their present persecution may be without reason. The results of this study will contribute to the general understanding of the Garub spotted hyena ecology and behaviour and will give background data to be able to discuss conflict issues with the affected parties.

 

Human-Wildlife-Conflict along the Sperrgebiet and Namib Naukluft Parks boundaries

This project aims to investigate human-wildlife-conflict (HWC) related issues on communal lands and commercial farms bordering the Sperrgebiet and Namib Naukluft National Parks. The emphasis will be on investigating conflict with carnivores. Camera trapping will be the major tool used for this study, but other indirect and direct monitoring techniques, such as hair snaring or observations at cattle posts, will also be used. Data from different habitats and seasons will be compared to gain a better understanding about the demography of carnivores in the southern Karas Region outside National Parks. It is planned to establish a carnivore inventory including their seasonal distribution to identify the actual predation risk posed by different carnivores and to give informed recommendations regarding conflict resolution.
The perception of farmers that were interviewed by the BHRP in 2004 was that HWC with carnivores is increasing. Many farmers blame the increase in certain carnivore numbers and its related problems with vacant farms that are bordering the National Parks, especially the Sperrgebiet National Park, which allows previously resident carnivores from the Park to enter farmland. These vacant farms may become Nature Parks for tourism in future and carnivores would most probably be conserved there. Furthermore, the area experienced above average rainfalls in 2006 and again in 2010 and this seems to have additionally let to an increase in carnivore numbers. At present, carnivores are persecuted on most farms bordering the National Parks, but it is not ensured which carnivore is actually the conflict causing species. Conflict is not only related to the loss of livestock, but also to the damage done on water pipes. The study area is extremely arid and any loss of water is significant. Water pipe damage may not always be carnivore related and farmers acknowledged that they can’t identify the conflict species, so that it is possible that other species, such as porcupines cause such damage.
Generally there is the need to identify which carnivore species are actually present on the farms, looking at their seasonal and spatial distribution, to avoid unnecessary persecution in future.