Nicholas School Internship Blogs

Where Did All The Hyenas Go?
by -- August 5th, 2013

When I began writing this blog, I mentioned that I am particularly interested in the resident large carnivores of Neuras, both leopards and spotted hyenas. Since those early posts, I have not mentioned hyenas once. I didn’t lose interest in them, they’ve just been practically non-existent since I arrived.

At first, the absence of hyenas baffled me. Across the continent, spotted hyenas are the most common large carnivore and the only large African carnivore listed as LEAST CONCERN on the IUCN Red List. In my experience, hyena prints are commonplace. Here at Neuras, however, I find leopard prints in all the streambeds, but it took more than a month for me to find my first spotted hyena footprint. It was tantalizingly close to one of the camera traps – on a road about 150 yards from some drinking holes in a riverbed – but the hyenas remained elusive.

Left footprint of a spotted hyena that I found on a road along the northern border of the Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate, Namibia. The large size, the pad that droops slightly to the outside, the claw mark above the right toe, and the concavity of the left toe are characteristic of spotted hyena prints.

Left footprint of a spotted hyena that I found on a road along the northern border of the Neuras Wine & Wildlife Estate, Namibia. The large size, the pad that droops slightly to the outside, the claw mark above the right toe, and the concavity of the left toe are characteristic of spotted hyena prints.

I discussed the lack of hyenas with Flo: “Maybe I was mistaken,” he said. “Maybe they aren’t resident after all.”

Since that conversation, we have finally observed a hyena at a couple of camera traps. But we are still unable to answer the question of just how regularly hyenas visit Neuras.

A spotted hyena visits a Neuras waterhole. Often stereotyped as scavengers, spotted hyenas are in fact highly efficient hunters. Spotted hyenas are also remarkable for their matriarchal social structure and for boasting the strongest jaw of any mammal relative to their body size.

A spotted hyena visits a Neuras waterhole. Often stereotyped as scavengers, spotted hyenas are in fact highly efficient hunters. Spotted hyenas are also remarkable for their matriarchal social structure and for boasting the strongest jaw of any mammal relative to their body size.

The problem is that although spotted hyena clans defend exclusive territories, they regularly travel long distances on foraging trips. Research in the Namib ecosystem showed that clans in the region primarily occupy a few core areas, but kill their prey an average of almost 20 miles from those areas. The sporadic hyena observations here at Neuras may suggest that while no clans have their core areas on the estate, it does fall within a clan’s larger hunting range.  Unfortunately, right now it’s still too early to say how important Neuras is to hyenas in the area.

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