Camera trapping for the ever elusive brown hyaena

My PhD on brown hyaenas has been an adventure so far. Recently I embarked on a new and exciting but, challenging facet of my fieldwork; camera trapping for brown hyaenas across almost 10,000 km2.

Almost nothing is known about the brown hyaenas living in this area. Due to their extremely large home ranges and secretive nature I felt that I needed to cover a wide area to acquire more information about which habitats they prefer especially between montane and flat areas and also which factors are affecting their distribution. A very large camera trapping grid will help me answer these questions and also ascertain the density of hyaenas in the area. This information alongside additional social and biological data will be invaluable to inform conservation decisions for this locally threatened species.

10,0002 km is a gigantic area and it takes several days to drive it just to set up or check the cameras. I created a 20 camera grid system with camera trap spacing based on the widest width of a collared hyaena from the area’s home range. Then I set out to find the owners of all 20 properties and ask permission. Everyone I spoke to was extremely supportive and welcoming.

With as much prep work as possible done, one of the PPP volunteer Research Assistants, Shannon, and I took several mini road trips to get the grid set up.

We expected to find wildlife along the way and we found heaps! My own ‘wildlife’, our kitten Schrody, tried to come as well but fortunately ended up staying at home.

While navigating to the points and setting up cameras we saw a number of animals. I am anxious to see the huge biodiversity that such a large area will support on the camera trap photos in a few weeks time.

We also were very very lucky and saw a young leopard on a road while driving in through the central Soutpansberg Mountains. The owner of the campsite where we stayed nearby said he had been there 11 years and had never seen one!

We also witnessed and set up cameras in many beautiful, not so beautiful but completely diverse landscapes, ranging from savannah to forestry plantations, townships to fruit farms.


At each predefined point we explored the wider area to find the best location for the camera. We cleared the grass and set up the camera trap.

Hopefully the project’s new security equipment will keep the cameras safe from theft or damage by people and animals.

Ten of the cameras are now active! Tomorrow morning Shannon and I are heading off for another 3 or 4 days to set up the remaining half of the grid. Once all the cameras are in position they will stay in place for three or four months and will be maintained regularly. I will be sharing some of the camera trap photos and eventually the results of this study through this blog.

Thanks to Shannon Finnegan for all her help with the brown hyaena research and for her photographs which are used in this blog. Thanks to all the landowners who have kindly granted access to their land and to my funders (Durham University, Earthwatch’s Shulman Award and a private contributor).

– Katy Williams, PPP Field Team Leader and PhD candidate


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