Yesterday the search for the collared hyaenas soared to new heights!
Last month a landowner I met during my PhD interviews offered to help Noeks and I look for the hyaenas from the air in his helicopter. We were so excited because this will enable us to cover a large area and also to check places that are virtually inaccessible on foot or car. This was our best chance yet to find them.
We organised a time with Jannie, our amazingly kind pilot and neighbour, and headed to the patches to meet the chopper. The pick up point was a bit rocky so we spent half an hour clearing a landing pad. This meant moving lots and lots of rocks. In the end Jannie found a better spot to land anyways but at least we got a work out and found a scorpion!
Sam thought my rock moving outfit looked like Guile from the Streetfighter games. Although I was unaware of who Guile was I agreed to do some poses for him. Why not? We’d cleared a field of rocks and were waiting for a helicopter. I was feeling pretty hard core.
The weather was a bit foggy and we couldn’t see Mount Lajuma. We were worried that if the fog didn’t lift we might not be going out. However the mist cleared and we saw Jannie flying in from a distance.
Once the helicopter landed Noeks and I got in and figured out how we were going to wield our big antennas around without whacking Jannie in the head.
And then we were off. Here we are about to lift off with a clear view of Mount Lajuma in the background.
We listened for the VHF beeps the whole time while flying around. We covered about 95 kms and at one location the receivers acted different. Although we didn’t hear beeps, there was a noise and then signals on the receiver screen all around that spot. We weren’t sure but we felt hopeful that this might be the den site!!
The views were absolutely stunning. We didn’t take too many photos because we were focussing on the tracking but here’s an aerial view of the mountains and Oldrich’s house from the air.
The flight was incredible and we felt hopeful that we might know where to look for the hyaenas. Sam and I went out a few hours later when the UHF receiver was about to become active. This receiver is used to download data from the collars and only works after 6 pm. We drove up on the quad bike and hiked into a position overlooking the point we picked up from the helicopter.
Here’s the view overlooking the spot where we picked up some sort of signal.
At 6 pm we tried to download.
And nothing. Here’s a less smiley me after the first download attempt.
And we waited as night fell. We tried both receivers for an hour just in case the hyaenas were underground when it was light and came out later, but nothing. I think it was a false alarm, maybe a bit of interference or something. I don’t think the den site is there.
Here’s the view of Kutama, a local community, after dark.
But despite the fact that we didn’t find the hyaenas this time we searched a lot more areas than before and had the most amazing experience. We are very very grateful for Jannie who made this possible. Thank you.
– Katy Williams, PPP Field Team Leader, PhD candidate and dedicated hyaena searcher!