Why are they studied?
Spotted hyenas are intelligent, strong, social and opportunistic. They are the most flexible of the members of the predator guild. They play the role of the aggressor or the persecuted. Depending on the circumstances, spotted hyenas may chase a lion off of a kill or flee with wild dogs, biting their hind quarters while in flight. In this way, hyenas seem to be the key to the carnivore guild and possibly a contributing factor of the behavioral systems of all of the other guild members.
The population dynamics of spotted hyenas within our study area remains comparatively unknown despite radio collaring and monitoring individuals in 6 resident clans. Although breeding females will spend several months at a den, if these females are not radio collared, the likelihood of finding a den is low. The secretive nature of their social groups, complex foraging behavior and their preferred thick bush habitats contribute to our limited success in identifying all clan members in the study population. We are confident of clan membership in two of the study area clans and most members in a third have been identified with approximate age and sex. We are currently updating the individual identification photo database to facilitate field recognition for all clans in the area. Spotted hyena subpopulation density derived from six known and estimated clan memberships and from calling station surveys is estimated at 17/ 100km².
Territory Size and Movements
Spotted hyenas in northern Botswana have an average territory size of 151km². Although several of our clans exhibit a typical, almost circular territory shape, several clans have particularly odd shaped territories. First, Gin's clan seems to prefer to move along the main road to the south gate of Moremi Game Reserve. Another hyena named Vera was collared inside Moremi, but she is often found within the southern part of our study area over 30km from her main territory. We believe that her movements are primarily influenced by the carcasses made available through hunting activities in the wildlife management areas.
Spotted hyenas are highly opportunistic and since they live at higher densities than the other area predators they are often present at carcasses of other species. Spotted hyenas are known to be proficient hunters, yet it is unclear how often they hunt for themselves. We do know, however, that scavenging provides a substantial food source in particular during the hunting season when hunters shoot large animals such as elephants and buffalo. Otherwise, hyenas are often seen feeding on impala, zebra and giraffe.
Spotted hyenas are highly persecuted outside of protected areas, and they are listed as Lower Risk/Conservation Dependent. Because of this persecution, we have developed a human-wildlife conflict study in a neighboring community.