Southern hyenas ‘don't overexploit any prey species’

08 March 2021 | Environment

Conservation is a priority at the N/a’an ku sê Foundation – not just to provide evidence-based, scientific data but to heighten educational values when working with local landowners in a conservation capacity.
N/a’an ku sê researcher Karl Fester spent 52 months (from 2016 to 2020) at the 35 000ha N/a’an ku sê-managed reserve of Kanaan Desert Retreat. Located in southern Namibia, this reserve is a prime site for desert-adapted wildlife, including spotted hyena.
In a media release, the Foundation said that these animals tend to be widely misunderstood, thus forming a vital species for the human-carnivore conflict mitigation research the N/a’an ku sê Foundation undertakes. Impressions about spotted hyenas encompass the belief that they overexploit prey species – having made them a target as suspected problem animals.
Fester, a Namibian having obtained a BSc in Natural Resource Management from Grand Valley State University (Michigan, USA), proved to be the perfect candidate in N/a’an ku sê’s efforts to dispel the “myths” surrounding spotted hyenas. His 52-month research is now complete and will be published in Ecology & Evolution, an open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on all aspects of evolution and ecology.
The research involved testing to find out if the spotted hyenas in the south Namib Desert had a particular preference for large herbivores (gemsbok, springbok, ostrich and kudu), since other studies have revealed that their main prey tends to be larger bodied prey.

Data from 508 game counts was compiled, focusing on large prey animals sighted in the Kanaan study area. This created a base population density for each of the large prey species. During this time, 146 scat samples from spotted hyenas were collected and dissected to extract hair, bone and other food items that had been consumed.
Using a formula called the Ivlev Electivity Index, the amount of hair and other items from each prey species found within the scat samples were compared to the base population density of each prey species. This scored the importance of each prey species within the diets of spotted hyenas.
If the importance of the prey animal is above its population density, it indicates a preference for that particular species.
The conclusion was drawn that gemsbok (oryx) are an important prey animal, since the hair of this species being the most commonly found in the scat samples. Furthermore, studies showed that no large prey animal is preferred by spotted hyenas above its base population density i.e. above its availability.
In summary, the spotted hyenas of the south Namib remain extremely opportunistic in what they eat, with eight different prey animal remains found in the scat samples indicating that spotted hyenas do not overexploit any prey species.
Says Fester: “It is exciting to have our work published, but this is just a small step towards what is needed to help reduce human-wildlife conflict and misconceptions about spotted hyenas.”

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