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Kafue Lion Project

Neil Midlane

  • National parks in Zambia are state-run, fully protected, and under the mandate of Zambia Wildlife Department (ZAWA). Most national parks are surrounded by Game Management Areas (GMAs) where some consumptive utilisation of wildlife is permitted. Although GMAs fall under the jurisdiction of local chiefs and Community Resource Boards, ZAWA retains ownership of all wildlife, and generates significant revenue from hunting concessions (lease fees) and quotas (license fees).

    Zambia currently has the fourth largest lion hunting industry in Africa. Long-term harvest data (1977-2008) show that the number of lion hunted nationally decreased markedly after 1992, then remained stable (with the exception of 2001-2002 when hunting was temporarily banned) at approximately 50 trophies per year, until 2008 when it dropped to its lowest level ever with just 10 trophies taken. Lion quotas remained relatively constant throughout this period, suggesting that the decrease in offtake was reflective of an overall population decline. Despite this, and a lack of population data for GMAs and national parks in general, quotas continue to be negotiated for and allocated annually. There is also evidence of underage (<3 years) male and female lion being shot, and of hunts occurring inside national parks.

    The legal destruction of lion from hunting (and, to a lesser extent, problem animal control due to conflict with livestock owners) is compounded by illegal poaching. It is difficult to accurately assess the impact of snaring on lion populations, but it appears widespread in all of Zambia’s national parks, and even more so in GMAs.

  • The overall aim of the project is to establish a strategic management plan for lions in the greater Kafue National Park (KNP) system, including the surrounding Game Management Areas (GMAs), which would contribute towards a better understanding and the sustainable management of the lion populations of KNP and Zambia as a whole.

    This study will investigate the conservation concerns facing lion in KNP and adjoining GMAs. Two main study areas will be reflected: a protected site on the Busanga Plains in the north of KNP, and a non-protected site with similar habitat composition in the adjacent Kasonso-Busanga (KB) GMA.

    It will assess whether the KNP acts as a source population for hunting in adjacent GMAs, and if those GMAs draw entirely from the protected population rather than fostering resident populations of their own. The prevalence of wire snaring in KNP and GMAs will be investigated, along with its impacts on the lion population and their prey. Finally, it will investigate whether levels of persecution from legal and illegal killing of lion outside the KNP are so high that the protected population is unable to increase and may be diminishing.

    Lion density, pride composition, causes and rates of mortality, reproductive performance, and spatial patterns of lions in the two study sites will be examined. Prey abundance in the two study sites will be estimated, and expected lion density (based on prey availability) will be compared with observed lion density. The total population size of lion in KNP will be estimated and mapped.

    The study will compare lion offtake with annual quotas in all GMAs surrounding KNP to determine the proportion of hunts that were successful. Hunting success will be related to the methods used and effort expended during hunts. In addition, it will examine lion trophies to determine whether underage (<6 years) or female lion were hunted.

    Questionnaire surveys will be conducted with different stakeholders on their perceptions regarding the consumptive and non-consumptive utilisation of lion in Zambia, and other factors pertaining to lion conservation.

  • September 2012
    During September we conducted a further 19 track count transects, covering approximately 440km. As the majority of these were in the remote boundary areas of the KNP, necessitating extended camping trips, note much other fieldwork was done during the month. We did, however, receive reports of three more lion snaring incidents.

    For the full report, please click here.

    August 2012
    August was a busy month for the KLP. We completed 19 track count surveys, covering about 400km of transects. With the assistance of the Zambia Carnivore Program, we deployed a further two satellite collars, and recovered a VHF collar.

    Lastly, we removed a snare from a lioness in the Papyrus Pride and treated her wounds, hopefully saving her and her two young cubs.

    For the full report, please click here.

    July 2012
    During July, we deployed additional Iridium GPS collars on two lions, one male and one female, in the Kafwala area. We conducted track counts in the Kafwala area, as well as in the regions of Mushingashi Open Area, McBride’s Camp, Leopard Lodge and Kabanga Gate. Lastly, the lead researcher hosted visits from supervisors, Dr Luke Hunter of Panthera and Dr Justin O’Riain of the University of Cape Town.

    During August we are planning on conducting more track counts, mainly in the areas around Hook Bridge as well as Musanza and Kapinga Camps. We are planning a total 21 transects during the month. In addition, if the opportunity presents, we plan to conduct call-up calibrations, as well as deploy our last two GPS Iridium collars, preferably on lions in the Moshi area of the KNP.
    For the full report, please click here.

    December 2011
    The first year of operation for the KLP has largely been a success. The project faced a number of frustrations early on which led to a fair amount of fieldwork time being lost. However, as the project evolved many of these frustrations were ironed out, and more work was conducted. We have largely accomplished what we hoped to during this initial phase, but more importantly we now have a far greater understanding of what is possible and what is not in this environment. This insight will ensure that our goals are realistic in future, and that we tailor our work accordingly to ensure maximum effectiveness and efficiency. For the full report, please click here.

    November 2011
    With the onset of the rainy season, fieldwork in November was limited. We spent some time in the Busanga Plains tracking radio-collared lions and had a few days with Dr David Squarre, ZAWA veterinarian, when we tried to capture and collar two more male lions. These attempts were unfortunately unsuccessful. The remainder of the month was spent in camp completing data capture and administration for the end of the field season. For the full report and tetails, please click here.

    October 2011
    During the first part of October, we completed our track counts for the season in the Lufupa Area. From the 11 October to the 22 October, we utilized the services of Dr Harvey Kamboyi for our lion collaring operation. During this time we managed to collar eight lions, of which five were females and three were males. Three of the collars were replacements (two Females and one Male), while five were on new lions. For the full report, please click here.

    July 2011
    Two collar downloads from the wet season provide some interesting data.
    Please click here for the detailed report.

    Annual Report 2011
    As a species, lions are in trouble, with population estimates putting their numbers at less than 30 000 individuals, having been extirpated from over 80% of their former range. One of the major issues facing lion conservation is the lack of knowledge on the status of lions in many areas where they still persist.

    At 22 500km2, Zambia’s Kafue National Park is one of the world’s largest protected areas and a potential stronghold for lions in the region, yet very little is currently known about the status of the species in the park. The Kafue Lion Project was therefore established in July 2010 to investigate the conservation status of Kafue’s lions, as well as to identify potential threats to the species in the greater Kafue ecosystem.

    Lions are unfortunately notoriously difficult to count. In order to derive an estimate of lion density for Kafue, we are therefore using a combination of survey techniques. First of these was a call-up survey in July and August 2010, where we played buffalo distress calls at 80 points throughout the north of the park and recorded predators responding. We will be calibrating the survey in July/August 2011 and thereafter will be able to produce a lion density estimate. In addition to the call-up survey we conducted a number of spoor and prey counts which will be used in conjunction with the call-up for the above purpose.

    During September we deployed six GPS collars on lions in the Busanga Plains region of northern Kafue, spread across three prides of females and three male territories. With poaching, fire, flooding, disease and hunting forming a suite of potential threats, the spatial data provided by the collars will assist us in determining which, if any, of these factors is limiting lion numbers in the park and surrounding Game Management Areas.