New resource available about brown hyaenas on private land

By Katy Williams

A wide variety of species rely on land outside of protected areas for their survival. One example is the brown hyaena. Brown hyaenas are only found in southern Africa and a large proportion of the brown hyaena’s range is on private land used for game or livestock farming (Kent and Hill, 2013; Winterbach et al., 2017). Despite the importance of these areas for brown hyaena success, living on private land often implies close proximity to humans, and this can be extremely risky. Brown hyaenas are persecuted for perceived or real livestock and game predation, and killed inadvertently through poisoning, in road collisions, and in wire snares (Mills and Hofer, 1998).


Figure 1. Brown hyaena. Photo credit Panthera.

Greater protection for brown hyaenas is required on private land, but this needs to be accompanied with better knowledge and understanding about brown hyaenas. Unfortunately, this secretive species is often misconstrued and undervalued. As predominantly scavengers, brown hyaenas pose little threat to livestock (Williams et al., 2018) and are extremely beneficial to farmers. They play an important ecological role in cleaning up dead animals naturally and reducing disease transmission (Beasley et al., 2015).

2. Credit Johan Botha

Figure 2. Brown hyaena cleaning up carcasses at a vulture restaurant. Photo credit Johan Botha

Thanks to financial assistance from the Primate and Predator Project (PPP), the Earthwatch Institute, an anonymous donor, and the National Research Foundation, I have produced a short booklet entitled ‘Brown hyenas on private land: A guide’. The booklet provides information about the brown hyaena’s diet, ranging, habits, and identifying signs, tips for living with brown hyaenas and other predators, and the benefits of having brown hyaenas on private land.

The booklet is available in English and in Afrikaans, both as PDFs and as hard copies. The PDF version can be accessed on the PPP downloads page (click here). At present, we have only been able to fund the booklet in two languages. We would love to be able to print more copies in more languages in the future.


Figure 3. English and Afrikaans brown hyaena guidebooks.

The booklet will be distributed across the brown hyaena range through conservation organisations and government officials. We hope that this resource will help improve the way brown hyaenas are understood and promote conservation.

If you would like more information about this booklet, please feel free to contact me at


Beasley, J.C., Olson, Z.H. and DeVault, T.L. (2015) Ecological role of vertebrate scavengers, In Carrion Ecology, Evolution, and Their Applications. eds. Benbow, M.E., Tomberlin, J.K. and Tarone, A.M., pp. 107-121. CRC Press, Boca Raton.

Kent, V.T. and Hill, R.A. (2013) The importance of farmland for the conservation of brown hyaena, Parahyaena brunnea. Oryx 47, 431-440. doi:10.1017/S0030605312001007.

Mills, M.G.L. and Hofer, H. (1998) Hyaenas: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Hyaena Specialist Group, Gland.

Williams, K.S., Williams, S.T., Fitzgerald, L.E., Sheppard, E.C. and Hill, R.A. (2018) Brown hyaena and leopard diets on private land in the Soutpansberg Mountains, South Africa. African Journal of Ecology, doi:10.1111/aje.12539.

Winterbach, C.W., Maude, G., Neo-Mahupeleng, G., Klein, R., Boast, L., Rich, L.N. and Somers, M.J. (2017) Conservation implications of brown hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea) population densities and distribution across landscapes in Botswana. Koedoe 59, 1-16. doi:10.4102/koedoe.v59i2.1441.


Thank You Braai 2018

Every year we host a thank you braai for our local supporters to show our appreciation of their support of our project. The braai takes place at Lajuma’s Wilderness Camp within our core research area. This year we had fantastic weather and a great turn out.

Thank you Braai (6)

Thanks to the support of landowners, veterinarians, community groups and like-minded projects we are currently conducting research in a number of areas. Our research project currently include permanent and semi-permanent camera grids, recording leopard density and general animal biodiversity, long-term behavioural, range and feeding ecology data on three species of diurnal primates, recording biodiversity of a range of plant species while engaging with, and educating a wide range of community and school groups in the world of conservation.

Highlight work slide

In preparation for the event the Primate and Predator Project research assistants and staff  worked very hard organising displays, presentations and preparing food. All of which was enjoyed by those who attended.

Approximately 30 people attended the braai and everyone enjoyed meeting each other, mingling, as well as learning more about our project and activities. Thank you so much to all that attended and making the afternoon successful and enjoyable. To those who were unable to join us this time, we hope to see you next year.

Thank you Braai (9)Thank you Braai (5)

To all our supporters, local, national and international we thank you for your support and encouragement, we could not operate our project without it.

Thank you Braai (1)

PPP Expand to Alldays

The Primate and Predator Project has recently received a grant from the Earthwatch Institute that has allowed us to extend our research base. In 2011, Dr Leah Findlay began her PhD on human-primate conflict, focusing on working with farmers who suffer crop damage from baboons and vervet monkeys. In order to do this, she moved off the Soutpansberg Mountains down into the Alldays area, where there were more crop farmers to work with. The main aim of the PhD was to gather information on the crop raiding problem and provide farmers with non-lethal ways to keep primates from entering crop fields. Although Leah’s PhD made progress toward this end, we felt that the research needed to continue in order to reach real solutions. With that in mind, and the help from the Earthwatch Institute, we have now set up a second research site in the Alldays area.

CR baboon zoom

A crop foraging baboon in a butternut squash field on a farm in the Alldays area.

Through the data we have collected so far, and our interactions with the local farming community, we have established a number of deterrent methods that we will test out to determine whether they are effective at keeping primates out of crop fields. As you can imagine, this can be a pretty difficult task, and we expect to have to trial a fair few ideas before we come up with anything successful. If you have any ideas of your own, please do send them to us in the comments below! As well as these mitigation trials, we also hope to help local livestock farmers that come into conflict with predators, through spreading the work of Philip Faure, our Community Engagement Officer at the Lajuma Research Centre. We will also be getting involved with the local community and increasing our target zones for our environmental education programme.

Research camp

Our new research centre at Camfornis Game Farm in Alldays.

The Alldays Wildlife and Communities Research Centre is located on Campfornis Game Farm, about 5 km outside of Alldays and is run by Dr Leah Findlay. Through the grant provided by Earthwatch, we have also been able to employ another member of staff – Peet Botes, who is our Farm Trials Assistant. As with our site up at Lajuma Research Centre, we will continue to take on volunteers and students to help us conduct our research – which will mainly be focused around human-wildlife conflict. If you would like information on the positions available at this new site, simply visit

Ground Pangolin Spotted on PPP Cameras for the First Time in Two Years

The ground pangolin (Smutsia temminckii), also referred to as the Cape pangolin, scaly anteater or the South Africa pangolin has recently been spotted on the PPP camera grid. The presence of this elusive species was last recorded on our camera traps in 2015. Station 22, the location where the images were captured, has only recorded pangolin images once before since the cameras were deployed in 2011.


The word ‘pangolin’ is derived from the Malay word ‘pengguling’ meaning something that rolls up. The ground pangolin is one of eight armour-plated species belonging to the order Pholidota, which are distinguished from other mammals by their imbricated protective scales, formed from tightly fused hairs. This species is primarily nocturnal and solitary, making the discovery of a pangolin during daylight hours, a rather pleasant and surprising find.

This charismatic species are currently severely under threat due to an increase in local and international trade for bushmeat and traditional medicinal purposes.  They have the unfortunate title of ‘the world’s most trafficked mammal’. Additional threats include traffic accidents, the construction of electrified fences, and  incidental mortalities in gin traps; all of which are injurious to pangolin populations when combined with their long-lived, slow producing life history strategies. However, their typically secret existence suggests their populations may be somewhat underestimated.

Some interesting facts about the ground pangolin:
– Pangolins have no teeth. Instead they possess a long conical tongue to retrieve their prey, which can be extended 10-15cm beyond the lips then retracted into a pouch located in the throat when not in use. Sand ingested with the withdrawal aids mastication of food items.
– They often seek refuge in burrows which were dug by other species, with a preference to use burrows dug by anteaters and spring hares.
– They have thick eyelids, which is suggested to be to prevent their eyes from ant bites.
– Pangolins are surprisingly very capable swimmers.
– This species is insectivorous, more specifically, they have a myrmecophagous feeding behaviour, defined by the consumption of ants and termites. In the case of the pangolin it has only been observed consuming approximately 19 species of formicid ants and termites.
– In one night pangolins can feed up to 90 times, with each execution lasting around a minute.
– The pangolin can roll into an almost impenetrable ball when threatened, wrapping its muscular tail around its unprotected underside leaving only sharp scales exposed.

Although the PPP camera grid in the Soutpansberg is positioned to primarily assess leopard densities, home range, survival and recruitment rates alongside activity patterns of other members of the carnivore guild, the camera traps are providing excellent sightings of other unique species on the mountain, including the ground pangolin!

Volunteering Opportunities Available with PPP

We are once again recruiting for volunteers to help out with our long-term data collection. If you are interested in a predator assistant position, take a look here: and or for primate positions see here:

18197310_10211990497585396_1441967903_nOur last PPP assistant team.

Please also pass along to anyone you think might be interested!

Seeking spots

By Philip Faure

A few months ago, we were contacted by Cheetah Outreach to set up a new camera trapping grid with them in the Platjan area, to establish leopard densities. Farmers in the area have been experiencing high levels of livestock-carnivore conflicts and would appreciate more information regarding predator abundances and densities. At last, after tracking down farmers, landowners, managers, and predator signs, this camera grid is now up and running.

1. Limpokwena LeopardLeopard photographed in Platjan © Limpokwena Nature Reserve

Initially, we were contacted to help conduct a leopard density estimate for the area, but after speaking with some of the local farmers it became clear that there is a big population of spotted hyena as well. At least that’s the general belief. It would be great to see what the actual density estimates for this area are. One thing is for certain, there are definitely a lot of leopard and hyena signs in the area. Across most of the area we placed cameras there were numerous tracks or scat found of both leopards and hyenas. Which makes this study all the more exciting from a researcher’s point of view.

3. Spottie JuvinilesSpotted hyena juveniles from Limpokwena Nature Reserve, Platjan © Limpokwena Nature Reserve

Leopard and spotted hyena are believed to cause the most damages  to livestock farmers. Many farmers use Anatolian livestock guarding dogs with their herds in order to minimize depredation by predators. Deon Cilliers from Cheetah Outreach has placed several dogs in the area to help farmers and predators live together. Likewise, Rox Brummer from Green Dogs Conservation has also worked a lot in the area to help mitigate human-carnivore conflict. Together, they have made a significant impact and their Anatolians have proven successful.

We have now placed 68 cameras over a 240 km2 area. Being situated right next to the Limpopo River, which divides South Africa and Botswana, Platjan has some amazing wildlife. Elephants visit from across the Botswana border, hippos float in murky waters, you see an occasional log drifting down the river only to realize it’s actually a crocodile, and dassies hold the fort on their little rocky outcrops. There are many different carnivores in the area, including occasional visits from some of the last free ranging South African lions, African wild dogs, cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, aardwolf, civets, genets, African wildcats, caracal, and servals. Truely a diverse landscape and as wild as can be on privately owned land.

7. Limpopo RiverThe Limpopo River forms the border between South Africa and Botswana.

What an amazing place this is to do camera trapping. Special thanks go out to Annie Casey (PPP Predator Assistant and Data Scientist) for helping set up the grid. Also, many thanks to Riley and Syanne from the Limpokwena Nature Reserve for offering us the most comfortable accommodation with great chats and laughter around the fire.

8. Mogalakwena RiverMogalakwena River, Limpokwena Nature Reserve.

Watch this space for project updates!

Nature, red in tooth and claw

On the 15th of July, Zina and Allison, two of our primate researchers, heard a loud commotion from the baboon troop they were following. Upon investigation, they found that one of the collared baboon females, Perry, was in a terrible state. Unsure of whether she was attacked by another baboon, or by something else, they called it in on the radio. Andy and Philip, our Primate Research Coordinator and Community Engagement Officer, went to investigate.

“Upon arrival we found Perry lying on her side and occasionally trying to get up. She had sustained major injuries to her head and her arm seemed to be broken”, said Philip. “We couldn’t see any leopard tracks or any other signs of a predator and kept monitoring her to see if she would recover. Close by a bushbuck was alarm calling in terror. Clearly, something was scaring it.” That evening Andy and Philip put up some camera traps to see if we could capture what was going on, and then left to let nature take its course.

The next morning, Perry was found a few meters from where she had been lying the previous morning, and still alive! There were no images of predators on the cameras. Were Perry’s injuries caused by another baboon in a fight? Or was it a leopard? We still did not know. She looked to be in a better state than she was the previous day, so we left the cameras to further monitor what happened. “Baboons are tough animals and I’ve seen a few that have bounced back from near death and horrible injuries”, said Andy who has worked with baboons for more than 3 years.

Philip and Andy returned the following morning at 4 am to remove her GPS collar, since this could have aided her chances of survival. However, she was completely missing… “We started tracking her with the VHF and kept getting a clear signal, but then it would disappear as soon as we got close. So we started again and the same thing happened, time and time again. We had our suspicions, but weren’t sure what was wrong with the collar”, said Andy. Eventually, we found baboon hair scattered over the grass (as leopards usually do with their kills), covered in fresh blood and saliva. “At that point we were sure it was a leopard, and it was close!”, said Philip. Common sense then took over, as it’s not the best idea to stumble around in the dark following a leopard and its kill.

When the camera images were checked back in the office, Philip realised they had missed Dexter, a big male leopard, by just 17 minutes! Even so, they got within 30 meters of him and his kill. The intermittent VHF signal was probably Dexter dragging his breakfast away from those pesky researchers! Later that day we returned to retrieve the GPS collar that Perry had been wearing. Only a few small signs of her remained. We found her skull, which had two big puncture holes where Dexter’s teeth had gone straight through. The collar had been damaged too. It really was a ferocious attack and astonishing that Perry lasted as long as she did. Baboons really are amazingly resilient animals, but some foes are just too big to overcome.