Estimating spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) population density using camera trap data in a spatially-explicit capture-recapture framework

Bachelor Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Species-specific population data are important for the effective management and conservation of wildlife populations within protected areas. However such data are often logistically difficult and expensive to attain for species that are rare and have large ranges. Camera trap surveys provide a non-invasive, inexpensive and effective method for obtaining population level data on wildlife species. Provided that species can be individually identified, a photographic capture-recapture framework can be used to provide density estimates. Spatially-explicit capture-recapture (SECR) models have recently been developed, and are currently considered the most robust method for analysing capture-recapture data. Camera trap data sourced from a leopard survey performed in uMkhuze Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, was analysed using SPACECAP, a Bayesian inference-based SECR modelling program. Overall hyaena density for the reserve was estimated at 10.59 (sd=2.10) hyaenas/100 km2, which is comparable to estimates obtained using other methods for this reserve and some other protected areas in southern Africa. SECR methods are typically conservative in comparison to other methods of measuring large carnivore populations, which is somewhat supported by higher estimates in other nearby reserves. However, large gaps in time between studies and the variety of historical methods used confound comparisons between estimates. The findings from this study provide support for both camera trap surveys and SECR models in terms of deriving robust population data for spotted hyaenas and other individually recognisable species. Such data allows for studies on the drivers of population and distribution changes for such species in addition to temporal and spatial activity patterns and habitat preference for select species. The generation of accurate population data for ecologically important predators provides reserve managers with robust data upon which to make informed management decisions. This study shows that estimates for spotted hyaenas can be produced from an existing survey of leopards, which makes photographic capture-recapture methods a sensible and cost-effective option for the less charismatic species. The implementation of standardized and scientifically robust population estimation methods such as SECR using camera trap data would contribute appreciably to the conservation of important wildlife species and the ecological processes they support.

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