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  • Writer's pictureMaddie Melton

The more, the merrier! Deploying more collars on Etosha’s carnivores

The end of May 2023 was an exciting time as we began the second year of capturing and collaring carnivores as part of the Greater Etosha Carnivore Programme (GECP) research initiatives! Focusing once again on north-eastern Etosha, the University of Georgia (UGA) spearheaded this collaring effort along with support from Etosha Ecological Institute, Ongava Research Centre, the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, and the University of Namibia and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism who also provided veterinary support. We expanded our ever-growing database of individuals by adding 2 lions and 3 spotted hyaenas, bringing our total to 14 satellite GPS-collared animals between Namutoni and King Nehale.

We take detailed ID shots of all captured individuals. These include photos of their teeth, whisker patterns for lions, and spot patterns for hyaenas.

Using our existing knowledge from previously deployed collars, we targeted animals in new prides and clans during this collaring session. We aim to study neighbouring social groups to better understand the role of intra-guild interactions on lions and spotted hyaena ecology and behaviour. But we also killed 2 birds with one stone, allowing us to monitor carnivore movement along the periphery of Etosha and determine when and where they cross the fence onto adjacent lands. This will enhance our understanding of the drivers of human-wildlife conflict.

Though we have only monitored these animals for a little over a month, we are beginning to see their movement patterns, home ranges and interactions with previously collared individuals. One of the newly collared male lions, PL049, has been seen with a female lioness we collared in July 2022.

Hyaena (left) and lion (right) home range showing the general areas where the collared animals roam.

We managed to collar our first 2 male hyaenas in this area of Etosha. Hyaenas are notoriously difficult to sex in the field due to the presence of pseudo-penis in females, and the difference in body size can only be seen when several animals are present. When we aim at collaring females, we look for the biggest and more aggressive or bolder individuals. When it comes to males, however, there is always a chance that smaller and shier individuals are actually subordinate females… In spotted hyaenas, males are subordinate to females are likely to have large home ranges than females since they need to range over larger areas to obtain their food.

Additionally, they usually emigrate from the natal clan once they are mature enough to mate, which can be anywhere from when they 2-5 years old. We are therefore looking forward to monitoring their ranging behaviour and determining how it differs from that of females of their clans and how far they emigrate if they do so. Interestingly, the male CC010 spends a significant portion of his time outside of Etosha, our first collared hyena we have seen to do so.

This was also an exciting time for Jessy Patterson, a PhD student from UGA, as it was her first carnivore capture in Etosha with the GECP. Here is her account of the experience: “It felt like I waited an eternity to participate in my first capture. I was so excited and counting down the days until I could be one-on-one with my study species. Aside from my research and dissertation, I wanted to be hands-on with the animals and learn how the entire process works from start to finish. The nights were late and physically exhausting, but it was the most fun I’ve ever had “working.” We were out in the bush for sunset every day, and that’s how our long night of working began. I’m sure everyone was tired of hearing me say, ‘There’s nothing quite like an African sunset.’

Captures require a lot of patience – you can be sitting for an hour, two, three, waiting on a lion or hyaena to arrive, but the moment they walk up it’s immediately exciting, and adrenaline begins pumping (even at 0200h). We start getting ready with data sheets, sample kits, gloves, tape measures, etc. so we can jump out of the car and start the work-up as soon as the animal is immobilized. The moment you approach the animal and learn more about it – age, injuries, size, if the females are pregnant or lactating, etc. – is indescribable. I loved everything about captures and I’m counting down the days until I can help with another.”

Jessy measuring the neck girth of a lion (left) and with other members of the UGA team (centre and right).

This year’s capture exercises have only just begun, as we plan to deploy an additional 9 spotted hyaena and 2 lion collars in other areas along the Etosha periphery to decipher movement differences between these species in other areas of the Park to further our knowledge on carnivore ecology.


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