Sophie, Katy, Eugene

Objective of the flight:

The objective of the mission was to locate four collared brown hyaenas in order to download GPS data for the purposes of studying brown hyaena ecology and relationships between brown hyaenas and humans.

Pilot: Eugene Couzyn

Aircraft: Gazelle

Beneficiary: Katy Williams, PhD candidate, Primate and Predator Project

Report from the beneficiary, Katy Williams:

“Between February and October 2013 I caught and collared four brown hyaenas. However, despite many tries I have been unable to relocate any of the collared hyaenas in order to download the GPS data. Eugene had designed mounts to secure our VHF antennae to both sides of the aircraft.

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During the second flight as we passed the western end of the Soutpansberg, I heard a clear VHF signal from one of the missing hyaenas, Bill. I took a GPS point of his location so I could return later with the UHF receiver to download. The UHF receiver we use to download data from collared hyaenas only works between 18h00 and midnight so it was not possible to download the data from the air that morning.

Above a gorge deep in the mountains we heard another VHF signal. It was Chomma, another collared hyaena. Again we took a GPS point. I couldn’t believe our luck. That evening I drove out to where we had detected the signals and downloaded all the GPS data from Chomma and Bill.   The mission was such a success. Finding two out of the four collared hyaenas was such an achievement.

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It was amazing to go from having no data at all on hyaenas to having heaps to analyse. This data will be essential to suggest conservation strategies for their protection and to encourage coexistence with humans.”

Report from the pilot, Eugene Couzyn:

“Data can only be downloaded between the hours of 18h00 and midnight, but requires close proximity and line of sight to be possible. Given that flying during this time frame would be highly dangerous, we sought to find the animals from the air during daylight hours, flying in the late afternoon and again at first light the next day, when the animals are most likely to be active. It was Katy’s intention to home in on any identified hyaena locations on foot after dark, in order to download the GPS data from any hyaenas identified from the daytime flights.

The first mission on Tuesday evening did not produce any results, but was a good exercise in testing the equipment and establishing the best height above ground and speed of flight. Best speed was about 60 kts and height about 1000 ft AGL which we were able to control with our Radio Altimeter. The terrain is particularly rugged, and given that the collars emit a signal every 5 seconds for each animal, flying too fast we might easily have missed a signal.  During the flight on Wednesday morning, we found Bill and Chomma, two of the collared hyaenas. Based on the excitement and Katy’s expressed desire to find at least one of the hyaenas, I would say that the mission was successful and the objectives adequately met.”