Tracking hyaenas

A study being carried out by a team at Nottingham Trent University is aiming to fit brown hyaenas with devices that transmit their location over a mobile phone network using text messages.

With estimates of the brown hyaena population in South Africa thought to be less than 1,700, the species is known to be at risk because of the perceived danger that they pose towards livestock. Although legally protected, many farmers are known to kill the animals.

PhD student Louisa Richmond-Coggan, from Nottingham Trent University’s School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, will fly to South Africa later this month. She will spend six months working with wildlife experts at the Pilanesberg National Park, to humanely capture hyaenas roaming in farmland outside the protected park area. One hyaena will also be captured from within the protected area.

Once caught, the team will attach special collars to the hyaenas that house a global positioning system (GPS) device and radio transmitter.

The radio transmitter will relay the co-ordinates of the hyaenas to the researchers via text messages sent over a mobile phone network, and the movement of the animal will be tracked using Google Earth.

Richmond-Coggan’s research will help to identify the reasons for differences in density and distribution between brown hyaena populations both inside and outside protected areas. It is hoped that her findings will help to inform conservation and land management strategies so that threats to hyaenas in non-protected areas are reduced.

Dr Richard Yarnell, an expert in biodiversity surveying from Nottingham Trent University, has secured a grant from National Geographic to support the research project.

Dr Yarnell said: ‘Using technology in this way to track and monitor the behaviour of these animals should help us to secure a better future for them, and we’re confident that our results will be of real use for helping to influence policy decisions for conservation management.’