Animals & Wildlife Magazine

It Was Supposed to Be So Easy

By Iratemonkey @_sam_williams_

When I think about Chomma and Betton, the two hyaenas we collared almost two months ago, a song by the Streets called ‘It was supposed to be so easy’ comes to mind. With leopards and baboons, the hardest part of using GPS collars to collect data has been to catch the animals in the first place. Once the collars were on, it’s been fairly easy to download the data. Brown hyaenas, on the other hand, are a different story…

This is not the first time since working in wildlife conservation and academia that things have been more challenging than imagined. A few things that I learnt over the years include:

1) Cheetahs are not easy to catch even if you dress up like one.


2) It is almost impossible for me to do statistics without crying.

3) Getting the paperwork to do research in Africa approved is tricky and time consuming, and makes one become good at hoop jumping.

Since Chomma and Betton were collared neither individual has been photographed on any of our 48 camera traps despite being caught at a central point within our 60 km2 camera trapping grid. I set out another camera trap at the spot the animals were caught in case they pass by again. So far I’ve photographed baboons, civets, genets and people but no hyaenas.

Noeks and I have been trying to find a signal from the hyaena collars a number of times. We haven’t heard a single blip on the VHF radio tracking receiver (other than the blips we hear in our heads because we so desperately want to hear something that we are starting to imagine it) and we haven’t managed to get any UHF communication from the collars despite covering a lot of ground by driving across properties on the mountain at night.

I decided that rather than always chasing around after hyaenas I will let them come to me. I set up a camp on Mount Lajuma in the hopes that the animals will pass by either side of the mountain and I’ll pick up a signal.

Here’s my tent at the saddle of the mountain. The tent has only been up there for about 4 nights now and mice have already chewed a small hole in one side and the wind already blew the rain cover off and left it exposed for water to come in. So it’s not such a great long term plan but I’m going to stick with it for a bit longer.



I climb the mountain at about 18:00, which is when the UHF receiver becomes active. Every half an hour until midnight I listen for the hyaenas with the radio tracking equipment and use the UHF receiver. So far not a thing has happened. The most exciting thing was on my first night when I went out for the 23:30 check and an unidentified but fairly large animal just outside the tent got scared off by me coming out.

This is the inside of my tent and all the essential gear needed to survive a night on the mountain. As I slept in my wet sleeping bag last night on the top of a mountain I could certainly sympathise with Frodo’s equally challenging quest.


Here’s the view as dawn broke this morning at the top of the mountain. Not too shabby.


So the plan at the moment is to just keep camping and keep hoping that the hyaenas will pass by. 

A local newspaper is publishing an article this week which talks about my PhD research and asks landowners with camera traps on their land to get in touch if they take a photo of a collared brown hyaena. I have also organised for a microlight flight in a few months time to help me search for the hyaenas. But basically despite the hyaenas seemingly ‘laughing’ at me, I’ll keep trying! It was supposed to be so easy.

Katy – PPP Field Team Leader and PhD student

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