Population Ecology and Conservation Genetics of Spotted Hyenas in the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of the Congo

First Results from Camera Trapping, Acoustic, Genetic, and Diet Analysis.

By Torsten Bohm

Summary

Spotted Hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) are on the verge of extinction in the Central African Congo Basin. Only one population, inhabiting the Odzala-Kokoua National Park (OKNP) in the north of the Republic of the Congo, has persisted. The OKNP is the largest national park in the Republic of the Congo. The park harbours a rich diversity of wildlife species, which includes servals (Leptailurus serval), leopards (Panthera Leo), forest buffaloes (Syncerus caffer nanus), forest elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis) and bushbucks (Tregelaphus scriptus). Spotted hyenas have found a last refuge here in the park’s forest-savannah mosaic.

During this study, data on population sizes of spotted hyenas and servals as well as distribution and abundance of other wildlife species in the OKNP’s forest-savannah mosaic were gathered with the help of camera traps. In addition, data on the diet and the genetic make-up of the OKNP’s spotted hyena and serval populations were collected. Spotted hyena vocalisations were recorded with the help of an autonomous recorder to examine if vocalization analyses can be used to give insights into population size and structure. Twenty-four different wildlife species, including ten carnivore species, were recorded during the camera trapping study. Spotted hyena was the most photographed wildlife species, followed by forest elephant, forest buffalo, and bushbuck respectively.

Hyenas_Torsten Bohm

Population size of spotted hyenas in the OKNP’s forest-savannah mosaic was calculated at 75 ±7.20 individuals resulting in a density of 0.17 ind./km2. This density is among the lowest densities for spotted hyenas in the world. The last remaining spotted hyenas in the Congo Basin are at high risk of extinction due to their complete isolation from other spotted hyena populations of which the nearest known populations live more than 800 km away in Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Data that were and will be gathered during this and future studies will help to give better understanding of the OKNP spotted hyena population’s size, genetic make-up and ecological requirements and finally, will help to implement urgently needed conservation actions.

Serval was the second most photographed carnivore species. The population size for servals in the OKNP’s forest-savannah mosaic was calculated at 20 ±5.59 individuals resulting in a density of 0.05 ind./ km2. The OKNP’s serval population is unique because of the existence of specimen of the so called “servaline” form in it. Individuals of the servaline form have smaller freckled spots and 50% of the recorded individuals during the camera trapping study belonged to this rare form.

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