This project will examine socio-economic factors underlying human-carnivore conflict and three important drivers of livestock depredation in the Habu village area – the movement patterns, abundance, and distribution of lion and other large carnivores living within a cattle-dominated landscape.
Lion have been shown to change their behaviour when close to human settlements. Looking at their movements within the cattle-farming areas will help us understand how lion navigate the boundaries between protected and unprotected areas, and when and where attacks on cattle are occurring. Insight into which individual lion are entering cattle-farming areas, especially in terms of whether these are younger nomadic lion that have been forced out of resident prides, or lion from resident prides. It will also help determine whether lion, as is believed in popular culture, become habitual livestock killers, or whether such behaviour is opportunistic.
Researcher: Carolyn Whitesell
Region: Habu Village area, Botswana
Organization: University of California, Davis. Graduate Group in Ecology
– BSc in Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution – University of California, San Diego
– PhD programme in Ecology (Current) – University of California, Davis
– Caro, T., Charles, G.K., Clink, D. J., Riggio, J., Weill, A., Whitesell, C. The Future of Terrestrial Protected Areas.
– Winterbach, Christiaan and Whitesell, Carolyn. Tourism potential of northern Botswana. (In progress)
Large carnivore populations are declining worldwide, primarily as a result of conflict with humans. Livestock depredation is a main cause of this conflict and a key factor influencing African large carnivore conservation. Large carnivores are wide-ranging and frequently cross the borders of protected areas, where they often come into contact with people. The resulting conflict often leads to the retaliatory killing of the animals, which can become a serious threat to carnivore populations inside the protected areas. Where this is the case, non-lethal conflict mitigation efforts are a priority to protect large carnivores. But to determine which mitigation efforts will be the most practical and cost-effective, it is crucial to first understand the extent and drivers of livestock depredation on a local level. This can only be achieved through research on the species involved and participation of the local community.
In Botswana, livestock are an important source of income, and cattle in particular are economically and culturally valuable. This project is taking place in the Habu village area, a cattle-dominated landscape adjacent to wildlife management areas located in the western Okavango Delta, Botswana. Habu village is located on communally-held tribal land and consists of a residential area and surrounding cattle-posts. Residents experience high levels of livestock depredation by lion and other carnivores, and retaliatory killing is a serious concern. At least two lion have been confirmed killed since October 2013, and anti-poaching rangers have caught farmers entering the protected are to kill lion as retaliation for livestock losses. It is currently unknown how many lion and other large carnivores are killed on an annual basis.
- Examine the movements of lion living along the periphery of cattle-dominated areas.
- Determine which lion are entering cattle-dominated areas.
- Determine the distribution and abundance of lion and other carnivores in the cattle-dominated landscape.
- Determine the energetic costs (or benefits) to hunting cattle.
- Examine how livestock husbandry practices influence livestock depredation events.
- Quantify the severity of conflict in the study area (number of livestock and lions killed within a 12-month period).
To complete objectives 1 and 2, GPS collars will be fitted on lion living along the periphery of the cattle-dominated areas. GPS points will be recorded in 10-minute intervals when the lion has entered the cattle-dominated areas, which will provide finer-scale data than has previously been recorded. Movement data will be analysed to examine if lion movements through the cattle-dominated landscape change seasonally, with the phases of the moon, or, for female lions with cubs, as the cubs grow older. This will be compared to movement of lions living within the Okavango Delta without access to cattle as a prey source.
To complete objective 3, a track survey will be conducted seasonally throughout the Habu village area. The sandy substrate in the study areas provides ideal conditions in which to count tracks. Track counts and hair snares along the fence that forms the boundary of the cattle-dominated area will also be used to determine which individual large carnivores cross the fence. In addition, when carcasses of livestock killed by lions are found, any lion hair present in the carcass will be collected in addition to swabbing the bite marks to collect lion saliva. This will assist in estimating lion abundance in the Habu village areas and determining which individuals are responsible for livestock killing. I will opportunistically collect genetic samples from all lions that are killed by farmers. At carcasses, two camera traps will be deployed for 24-hours to capture images of any lion that return to the carcass. All lion encountered opportunistically during the project will be photographed and identified by their unique whisker spot pattern.
Objective 4 will be completed by using temperature and activity loggers on each GPS collar, which will be used to compare levels of activity and energetic costs when the lion is within or outside the cattle-dominated area.
To complete objectives 5 and 6, a research assistant will conduct a pre-tested questionnaire survey of all farmers in the village area. The survey will include questions to determine the extent of livestock lost to each carnivore species, to determine livestock husbandry practices in the area, to determine attitudes towards large carnivores, and to determine actual behaviours of farmers towards large carnivores. The locations of all cattle posts will be recorded with a GPS.
Annual Report 2017
This year marked the final year of data collection for this project. During the 2016 wet season, a total of 610 km of large carnivore track counts was conducted along 75 km of the veterinary fence that separates the cattle area from the protected area. These counts provide valuable information on large carnivore movements across this boundary during the wet season.
With the wrapping up of the project, as many GPS collars as possible are being removed from their lion subjects, including a collar on a male who had shifted his home range after being ousted from his pride in 2013. The battery on his collar failed a short time after he shifted home ranges, making it difficult to find him. Interestingly, this male, who is now approximately nine years old, had moved from the area bordering the cattle area further into the protected area. There, he formed a coalition with a younger male, and together they are covering a new pride.
A total of three prides are covered by two coalitions of males that had been collared for the project. It was exciting to discover that all three of these prides gave birth to cubs in 2016. We look forward to continued updates by the tourist guides in the area on the status of these litters.
The data collected is now in the process of being analysed, with at least three scientific papers and the completion of the PhD anticipated by the end of 2017.
Annual Report February 2016
During this last year, the research team was able to collar one additional male lion, replace two collars whose batteries were running low, and remove one collar that had collected sufficient data. We continued conducting seasonal game counts and track counts along the veterinary fence that separates the wildlife area from the cattle area and recorded large carnivores crossing the fence on a daily basis. We expanded the track counts to a transect further north than those we covered in 2013 and 2014 in order to increase our coverage of the study area.
Hundreds of cattle have entered the wildlife area, and the research team recorded numerous incidences of livestock depredation by lions within the wildlife area, in addition to livestock losses within the cattle area. Interestingly, during this last year a coalition of collared male lions shifted home ranges and is now alternating between spending time in the cattle area and near tourist camps within the Okavango Delta. This highlights the fact that lions that are important for tourism can be the same lions that are facing persecution in cattle areas. These males are covering multiple prides, and if they are removed or lose a member of the coalition as a result of persecution, all those prides could be negatively affected.
The project is beginning to wind down and will be completed in 2016. Preliminary results show the collared lions spending significantly more time in the cattle area during the dry season than during the wet season. In addition, early results show that lions are avoiding the cattle area during times of human activity, suggesting that lions may be actively avoiding humans. Further analyses are currently underway on the GPS collar data and track count data.