Heterogeneity in the density of spotted hyaenas in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa

15 December 2009

Animal population sizes and trends, as well as their distributions, are essential information to the understanding and conservation of ecosystems. During this study in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, South Africa, a spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta Erxleben, 1777 (Hyaenidae) population was surveyed by attracting individuals with pre-recorded sounds. The hyaena population (excluding cubs) is substantially larger (321 individuals) than the previous estimate of 200 and this population is the second largest protected population in South Africa. Average hyaena density, at 0.357 individuals/km2, was relatively high compared to other southern African conservation areas, and range from 0 to 1.25 individuals/km2 across sampling stations. For short periods, spatial heterogeneity in density was marked at small and large spatial scales, but decreased when averaged over a longer period. This heterogeneity may be important in promoting the coexistence of other large and mobile carnivores in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park by creating potential dynamic competition refugia in space and time. Furthermore, heterogeneity of hyaena density at smaller scales should influence studies investigating the avoidance of hyaenas by competitively inferior carnivores.