Mr Hennie Butler works within the eco-ethology research group, combining teaching and research. Together with postgraduate students, they form a study group that encourages inter-disciplinary research through a combination of laboratory and field science. The eco-ethology group pursues basic research in the field of behavioural biology and ecology, but also includes diverse areas such as the anatomy, physiology, natural and evolutionary history, taxonomy, conservation, management, and economics of animals.

Interacting with big cat

Collecting samples

Study group members 

Postgraduate students and research titles

Klinette Sutherland, MSc:
Responses of South African herbivores to chemosensory stimuli.

The integration of mammalian chemosensory preferences could enhance existing passive game capture methods. Numerous animals are captured annually for various reasons. Unfortunately, current capture methods are not only associated with a variety of risks, such as human and animal injuries, elevated stress levels as well as mortalities, but are also usually excessively expensive. To simplify the process, baiting is used to attract game species to predetermined areas for capture. In South Africa, water and feed, like lucerne, is used successfully. However, these methods are restricted to the winter months when surface water and forage is limited in certain areas. In contrast, altered feed have been successfully developed in the United States of America, which are used throughout the year to manipulate game species. The aim of this study is thus two-fold: (1) determine the risks associated with different capture methods, and (2) develop chemosensory baits to attract South African ungulates into bomas. EvaSys surveys will be used to gather risk assessment data from veterinary scientists and wildlife translocation organisations, while cafeteria experiments will be used to evaluate wildlife chemosensory preferences. The outcomes of this study could be of scientific, ethical as well as economic value. These findings will be the first to offer insight into the chemosensory preferences of ungulates, whilst simultaneously refining the ethical approach of game capture. It might also decrease translocation costs and in addition, create a market for wildlife baits.


Kristen Darker, MSc: Geophagia among African elephants (Loxodonta africana).

Geophagy, the deliberate ingestion of earthy materials such as soils, clays or sediments, is a common occurrence among various animal species, including mammalian herbivore and omnivore populations. Geophagy is critical for nutritional (mineral) budgets and is thought to shape wildlife distributions and densities. This phenomenon appears to be common behaviour in all species of elephants in most of their habitats. The most spectacular evidence hereof, is the excavation of caves on the volcanic slopes of Mount Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. However, despite the several documented instances of soil eating among animals, the real motivation behind the geophagy remains somewhat controversial. The study aims to investigate the prevalence and behaviour of geophagy among African elephants in the Addo Elephant National Park.






Zoology and Entomology: Eco-Ethology


Elfrieda van den Berg (Marketing Manager)
T: +27 51 401 2531


Dilahlwane Mohono (Faculty Officer)
T: +27 58 718 5284

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