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After Frikkie & Numandi Botes saved a 12-week-old Spotted Hyena cub (whom they named Rafiki) from the illicit pet trade in 2015, Project Rafiki was started. They immediately realized that there is a lot to learn about these magnificent creatures when they raised Rafiki. Rafiki was successfully reintroduced into the wild in the SanWild Sanctuary when she was almost two years old. Hyenas are extremely family (clan) oriented and exceptionally intelligent. A hierarchy is established for each and every hyena in a clan. Clans in different regions evolve and modify their behavior in response to their environmental conditions.

Unfortunately, humans are a threat to hyenas because they compete for resources and habitats, hunt them for sport, and use them as entertainment. Hyenas are also killed by humans for their meat, body parts, and fur. Human encroachment on their natural habitat has caused the range of hyenas to shrink, and poaching and illegal trading of hyenas further threaten their populations.

In the past few years, the project founders have been actively involved to educate communities about the misconceptions they have about hyenas and why it is important to protect them.

Their current project involves density and behavior studies.

Although spotted hyenas (Crocuta Crocuta) are listed as “lower-risk” by the IUCN, they are categorized as Conservation Dependent – meaning that without active and successful conservation programs the species would be most likely eligible to be upgraded to threatened status in a few years.

The brown hyena (Parahyaena brunnea) is listed as “Near Threatened” by the IUCN, and their biggest threat is humans.



Project Rafiki seeks to perform a population density and behavior study on both brown and spotted hyenas on privately owned game farms and nature reserves. With the help of their research, they can provide landowners with advice regarding their hyena population as well as any potential future behavioral issues. Their data can also be found on the South African Wildlife Association’s webpage.


They use animal biometric photography to conduct their research. Hyena photos are uploaded to the system, and profiles are generated for each clan member. The algorithm of the program analyses the photos of the hyena to find patterns or other features that they can use to identify a specific clan member. By having this data, the hyena population density can be studied. Bush trail cameras are also used, placed in predetermined locations, typically around a den to analyze the clan order and capture videos of potential cubs at the den.


Project Rafiki is a fully self-funded project, and the founders are conducting the research entirely out of affection for these amazing predators.

They strive to perform their studies with the minimum invasion of wildlife and nature.

Owners are invited to partake in this project by providing information about brown hyena sightings on the Mabalingwe Reserve! We would love to hear from you and this valuable information will help us to contribute as a community to Project Rafiki.

FRIKKIE & NUMANDI BOTES | 083 881 7228 & 082 670 8581

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