Doctoral Candidate 3 (Theme 1)

Differences Between Responses of Prey to Predators and Humans

State of the Art

Quantifying the indirect (reduced foraging time) and direct effects (mortality) of predation on population sizes is difficult due to limited understanding of long-term effects after encounters. Tracking behavior and movement of prey a long time after encounters with predators will provide better understanding of the costs of predation. It will also provide a better understanding in differences of responses after an encounter with predators or humans, which to date is not well understood but important for conservation as these could be poachers looking for their target animals. 

Innovations and Impact

The use of drones in detecting poachers is limited by the vast size of protected areas and the costs of covering this area by patrolling drones. Targeted use of drones will help to detect and localize poachers and differentiate between deviation from “normal” behaviour due to encounters with predators and humans. This will help to improve the system to detect and locate poachers.

Copyright by Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior

Copyright by Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior

Copyright by Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior


Responses of prey to predators have received a lot of attention in ecological studies. However, the behaviour of prey more than a few minutes or hours after encounters with predators is hardly studied. A few studies show that deviations from pre-encounter behaviour persist for hours after the encounter, suggesting that disturbances by humans, such as poachers, can be detected by monitoring prey and analysing deviations from “normal” behaviour .

The Doctoral Candidate will:

  • Analyse data from collared predators (lions and hyenas) to identify movement signatures indicative of hunting
  • Use drones to study the long-term responses of free-ranging zebras after an encounter with predators or humans
  • Analyse movement data to identify individual and collective behaviours that can differentiate between predator attacks and encounters with humans.

Expected Results

  • Behavioural dataset to be used to develop an algorithm that triggers automated drone flights to follow a collared predator as soon as it shows signs of hunting behaviour.
  • Dataset on flight trajectories of multiple prey after an encounter with a predator or a human (for use by Doctoral Candidate 8 to develop on-board animal tracking)
  • Quantitative descriptions of behaviours and movement patterns to test differences between responses of prey over time after the encounter with predators or humans.

Project Facts

Planned Secondments: Kenyatta University (Kenya); fieldwork & data collection (twice). Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior (Germany); data analysis.

Principal Supervisor: Professor Frank van Langevelde, Wageningen University.

Main hosting site: Wageningen University (Netherlands)

Illustration of DC3 – Predator-prey Response project

More about the Themes

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