We describe a miniaturized infrared camera mounted on a remotely operated platform (burrow probe system) that we developed to investigate spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) cubs while still in their natal dens. In conjunction with the burrow probe system, we used a hook system to retrieve carcasses from within burrows. To test the utility of these systems, we compared results obtained using the burrow probe and hook to results obtained from intensive above-ground monitoring alone. With the probe, we documented births and litter sizes at significantly younger ages than with above-ground monitoring. The probe was instrumental in detecting cubs that died prior to emergence from the natal den. Retrieval of carcasses allowed collection of genetic samples and data on sex and cause of death. Thus, the burrow probe and hook systems can provide scientists and managers with empirical data on productivity and neonatal mortality of carnivores in the wild; data essential to accurately monitor and model population trends.
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Vol. 71 • No. 5