PICS: Hyenas turn Namibia's abandoned mines into breeding den

2016-10-26 08:10
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Cape Town - Beautiful photos show brown hyenas in the dens they have made in abandoned mines and ghost towns in Namibia.

In one, ageing hyena "Obelixa" dozes inside the dusty shade of what was once a casino, enjoying a late morning nap..

In another, an unbelievably fluffy cub, his brown coat tinged toffee, peers out from a mine entrance.

The photos were posted by the Brown Hyena Research Project. Its founder Dr Ingrid Wiesel says she's first studied hyenas in the Elizabeth Bay ghost town area of southern Namibia in 2001.

Her research has been concentrated on hyena dens in Elizabeth Bay in the southern Namib desert. Camera traps have also been set up in Mining Area 1 which is situated further south. Parts of the the area are still actively mined for diamonds but some mines are being dismantled.

Hyenas have made dens in one such area, Wiesel told News24.

She said, "We knew from ministry of environment and tourism personnel, other researchers, film makers and mining personnel that a specific building had been used as a den site [in Elizabeth Bay] before I even started studying in the area."

"We monitored the building occasionally. However, we found other natural dens in the area that were also used."

"Once we started with a more detailed study in 2009, we found many more dens inside the old mining town. The animals were predominately using old pipe or drainage systems as their dens."

"Most such dens we found through analysing our GPS collar and telemetry data, others through mapping the area for hyena signs," Wiesel said.

As part of the project, Wiesel has collared eight brown hyenas.

Beautiful female Obelixa, seen near the casino where she has been raising what may well turn out to be her last two cubs, is around 14, says Wiesel.

"I captured and collared Obelixa for the first time in 2009. She is the main breeding female of the Elizabeth Bay clan. She has raised many cubs. I think that she will not live for that much longer any more," she said.

In fact, the hyenas don't often den inside the buildings but very close by. They obviously slip in and out of them as the photos show.

Wiesel says that the old buildings and mine structures offer protection from the elements, as well as protection for the cubs from other predators.

"Brown hyenas like to use existing structures although they are well capable of digging their own dens. But they will use for example aardvark burrows in the Kalahari, so similarly they use existing 'structures' such as abandoned man made objects here," she said.

It's not just brown hyenas that find the old buildings perfect shelters. Jackals like them too. But if a hyena comes along to claim the den, the jackal finds it prudent to move out.

Wiesel added,"But hyenas seem to be able to share dens with porcupines." Unusual den-mates. But then maybe the prickles have something to do with it?

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