ALERT, in partnership with the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and Lion Encounter Zimbabwe, initiated the Zambezi Hyena Project.
Large mammal carnivores play an important role in maintaining a balance between the ungulate population and the environment. However, when carnivore numbers increase, certain age classes of the ungulate population can be negatively affected. Spotted hyena, contrary to popular thought, do hunt extensively and predate mainly on the juvenile age class, although they will also take down adult animals. Spotted hyena are the most common and abundant large mammal predator in many African ecosystems and their impact on prey species, and other carnivores, can therefore be significant.
In Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park, and surrounding areas, it has been hypothesized that the ungulate population shows an imbalance in the population structure, with under-representation in the lower age classes, possibly due to a large spotted hyena population. In addition, reports have been received that hyena are significantly involved in livestock predation in nearby human-populated areas. Further, hyenas in large numbers exert pressure on other large mammal predators, and their kleptoparasitic habit of appropriating kills just made by other carnivores such as wild dog, cheetah and lions, can have an adverse effect on the recruitment and condition of these carnivores.
To date no studies have been carried out on spotted hyena in this location and this study is looking at the population dynamics of the species to obtain data on population size, ecology, behaviour and interaction with livestock. The interaction between lions and hyena will also be studied as these two species are major competitors and are known to limit population growth within their populations. The study is expected to last at least three years and result in management recommendations to the wildlife authority.