Ground-breaking research the past four years might be the first steps to clear the reputation and misconceptions of the spotted hyena of the southern Namib Desert being a problem animal.
The soon-to-internationally-published research by a Namibian, Karl Fester, who obtained his BSc in natural sciences at the University of Michigan shows that although spotted Hyenas are extremely opportunistic when they hunt, they do not overexploit any of the species that they prey on.
Spotted hyenas and specifically those that have adapted to a life in the desert have been widely regarded as problem animals because of them overexploiting prey species.
Karl Fester, spent 52 months from 2016 to 2020, at the internationally acclaimed 35 000-hectare 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.
In spite of the initial Namibian breakthrough, the research had to be stopped because of financial constraints brought about by the international business interruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The well-known conservationists, Dr. Rudi van Vuuren and his wife Marlice are internationally known for their promotion of Namibia through N/a’an ku sê’s rehabilitation of upliftment of marginalized communities.
The improvement of wildlife knowledge and the special care of the San community attracted support from superstars like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and a host of international investors, film producers, and conservationists.
Dr. Van Vuuren said they cannot pay for the research work already done and further research, because Hollard Namibia has yet to give an indication of the will to honour N/a’an ku sê’s insurance claim for business interruption.
Hollard Namibia against the practice of Hollard South Africa and Hollard International has dug in their heels and has yet to decide if business interruptions are a result of the Covid-19 pandemic or not. Dr van Vuuren and his wife are currently hosting a huge popular environmental and education series on DSTV and are regular features of National Geographic and other acclaimed production houses for the ground-breaking work they are doing.
Fester is a Namibian that obtained a BSc in Natural Resource Management from Grand Valley State University in Michigan in the United States of America. During his research, he found that spotted hyenas proved to be the perfect candidate in N/a’an ku sê’s efforts to dispel the “myths” surrounding the animals.
The scientist’s 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 southern 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 were 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’s 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, 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 availability or base population density.
The study found that the spotted hyenas of the southern Namib Desert remain extremely opportunistic in what they eat, eight different prey animal remains found in the scat samples indicating that spotted hyenas do not overexploit any prey species.
“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.”
The research was undertaken because spotted hyenas tend to be widely misunderstood. Desert adapted spotted hyenas are a vital species for the human-carnivore conflict mitigation research that the N/a’an ku sê Foundation undertakes.
Conservation research forms a top priority at the N/a’an ku sê Foundation, evidence-based, scientific data obtained thereby putting mere theory to rest.
Research heightens educational value when the foundation works with local landowners on conservation initiatives.