Connecting wildlife through Zambia’s transboundary wildlife movement corridors in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA).
This project aims to identify and secure wildlife movement corridors within the Zambian landscapes of KAZA TFCA by determining elephant landscape utilisation, and identifying impediments to elephant movements and threats to their survival that restrict connectivity with cross-border elephant populations.
Information will be generated to guide conservation planning and action to secure elephant habitats and designate legally protected wildlife movement corridors. Such corridors will serve to restore landscape connectivity between protected areas within the central KAZA area to enable wildlife free movement between member countries, thereby alleviating the impacts of habitat loss and climate change on otherwise isolated wildlife populations.
Researcher: Dr Kerryn Carter, John Carter
On paper , KAZA TFCA links some of the iconic national parks of southern Africa but there is little information on functional connectivity and .The lack of actual landscape linkages between many of the areas the KAZA TFCA have yet to be realised, resulting has resulted in isolated wildlife populations across the KAZA landscape. In particular, there has been no connectivity research on the Zambian component of KAZA TFCA.
One of the main objectives of the KAZA TFCA is to establish wildlife connectivity throughout its protected landscape. and tTherefore, understanding the capacity of the Zambian component of KAZA TFCA to provide cross-border connectivity between wildlife populations is an urgent research priority as the current window of opportunity to secure functional corridors is disappearing, due to ongoing illegal logging in forestry areas and illegal land clearing in community areas.
With more frequent droughts, as a result of climate change, reducing the amount of natural forage and water available, wildlife will need areas of safe passage to move across the landscape in search of scarce resources. If functional corridors are not identified and protected, dispersing wildlife will be at increased risk of poaching as they attempt to navigate routes through increasingly disturbed landscapes.
This study aims to identify and secure transboundary wildlife movement corridors, commencing with a study of the landscape movements of an umbrella species, the African elephant.
The African elephant in the KAZA TFCA accounts for at least half the population of the number of elephants in Africa. Therefore, the isolation of elephant populations, due to shrinking habitat, is of critical conservation concern throughout Africa. Consequently, the provision of corridors linking protected areas in this region will unite most of southern Africa’s elephants into a single entity that could function as a meta-population.
Currently, no information is available about connectivity between the elephant populations of Kafue National Park (NP) and other populations in the region, with some experts proposing that elephants in Kafue NP have become geographically isolated. By establishing connectivity between the elephant populations in Zambia and those of the greater KAZA area, the functionality of the elephant meta-population in the region will be improved.
To determine elephant utilisation of the landscapes within the Zambian component of KAZA TFCA.
To identify the determinants of tracked elephant spatial use, impediments to their movements and threats to their survival.
To identify existing and potential elephant movement corridors that can provide landscape connectivity between Zambian ecosystems and the greater KAZA TFCA landscape.
1. Analysis and mapping of seasonal GPS collar data
The main activities of the three-year project are the fitting of GPS satellite collars to up to 20 wild elephants. Eight collars were already fitted in September 2017. After each wet and dry season, position data from satellite collars will be mapped, along with data regarding the determinants of elephant spatial use. More frequent information will be provided in timely updates to the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to enable anti-poaching activities to be adapted if necessary.
2. Field verification of elephant spatial use as identified by GPS collar data
Conducting regular field investigations relating to the determinants of their spatial use. Monthly field trips throughout the Zambian KAZA landscape to collect data relating to the determinants of collared elephant spatial use, including:
Habitat use: Data collection by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) from areas frequented by tracked elephants. Appropriate licensing and training for the aerial vehicle was obtained as per Zambian law.
Barriers to movement: Photographs collected by the UAV deployed to GPS locations within the study area where collar data suggests that the elephant was unable to continue forward movement.
3. Field verification of movement pathways that cross country borders
If tracked elephants cross into other countries, these areas will be investigated on foot or with a UAV to identify the existence of well-used movement pathways within Zambian woodlands that animals use for cross-border movements.
4. Circuit theory analysis of GPS collar data
The data generated from field investigations will be vital in achieving the project objectives and identifying locations where conservation action is needed. Landscape connectivity will be evaluated using two to three years of movement data combined with modern connectivity analysis methods. Circuit theory analysis is a new technique that combines actual movement data with environment data such as habitat types and coverage, water points and human densities to assess which available movement pathways are more likely to be used by animals as they provide the highest levels of connectivity. Such analysis techniques have been used successfully in determining functional versus available movement pathways, using collared elephant data in Namibia and at a larger scale across six elephant populations in southern Africa.
Wet season movements of tracked elephants in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) have shown that cross-border connectivity of elephant herds is occurring. Our study aims to identify transboundary wildlife movement corridors in the Zambian component of KAZA TFCA, guided by a study of the landscape movements of an umbrella species, the African elephant.
Field investigations in areas frequented by eight tracked elephants in Sioma Ngwezi National Park have revealed a general preference of the elephants to remain within the protected boundaries of the park during the 2017/18 wet season where there are ample food and water resources. This has enabled the Department of National Parks and Wildlife to provide security for the elephant herds while in the Park, and knowledge of the locations of collared elephants has enabled anti-poaching patrols to be more targeted towards elephant protection.
Some of the tracked elephants showed cross-border movements this quarter and have spent time in Namibia. A young adult male continues to remain outside of Zambia and has travelled into Namibia and Botswana, a distance of 150 km from where he was first seen in Zambia last September. His movements have supported the viability of the Kwando Wildlife Dispersal Area (WDA) as having the potential to connect Zambian elephant populations with other elephant populations of the greater KAZA area. The Kwando WDA is one of the six Wildlife Dispersal Areas prioritised in the 2015 KAZA TFCA – Master Integrated Development Plan, which were identified with the objective of establishing wildlife connectivity throughout the KAZA landscape.