Spotted hyaena visitation at anthropogenic sites in the Kruger National Park, South Africa

05 Mar 2019

Many large carnivores are attracted to anthropogenic sites, typically, because they offer easy access to anthropogenic resources, such as garbage. Such behaviour could lead to increased contacts between people and carnivores, with the potential for escalated conflicts. Within protected areas, carnivores experience limited risks of visiting anthropogenic sites. However, conflict could still arise, so that it is important to evaluate the drivers for visitation within protected areas. We tested how age, sex and social rank influenced seasonal visitation rates by spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) at two sites with elevated human activity and infrastructure within the Kruger National Park, South Africa. Social rank did not influence visitation rates, and differences among age classes did not correspond to differences in abilities to procure native food. Instead, juveniles had higher visitation rates than older individuals, but only during the wet season. Visitation rates were not consistently higher during the dry season, nor was there more pronounced differences between age classes in the dry season. Our results suggest the anthropogenic sites were visited as part of exploratory behaviour coupled with occasional rewards. Our study also showed a large individual variation in tendencies towards visiting anthropogenic sites, but only for younger animals. We call for additional studies quantifying individual variation in tendencies to visit anthropogenic sites, and argue that deterrents and limitations in rewards of visiting anthropogenic sites might be efficient in preventing human-hyaena conflict within the Kruger National Park.