Nocturnal camera trap pics show rare carnivore standoff

April 7, 2014 - 3:44pm

Leopards and brown hyenas are being studied for zoo-supported project in Zimbabwe

A rarely seen nocturnal encounter between a leopard and a brown hyena was photographed during a recent carnivore research project supported by the Oregon Zoo.

Shot with camera traps on March 12, the images depict a brown hyena — a different species from the better-known spotted hyena — investigating a leopard trapped by the Chipangali Wildlife Trust in Zimbabwe's Matobo National Park. The hyena lingered for five minutes before moving on.

"These are the two species we're currently focusing on, so it's particularly exciting to see both in one photo," said deputy zoo director Chris Pfefferkorn, who is also a project coordinator for Zimbabwe-based Chipangali Wildlife Trust. "There's a lot we don't know about the relationship between these predators, but it's unlikely that the hyena would have approached the leopard if it wasn't in a steel cage."

The leopard had been trapped earlier that night as part of a tracking study. The following morning, researchers took the cat's measurements and fitted it with a GPS collar before releasing it.

Livestock-predator conflicts are common in Zimbabwe, where hunting leopards is legal. Pfefferkorn and the Chipangali Wildlife Trust researchers are collecting baseline data about leopard populations and movements to better understand how to manage the big cats.