Researcher: Kristoffer and Leah A. Everatt
Region: Limpopo Transfrontier Park, South Africa
Conservation measures for cheetah, lion and wild dog require reliable estimates of their population status, distribution and trends. However, because these species exist at low densities and are wide ranging, these critical baseline data are lacking for significant portions of their ranges. One such region is Limpopo National Park (LNP) in Mozambique, which forms part of the Greater Limpopo Trans frontier Conservation Area (GLTCA) with Zimbabwe and South Africa. Although civil war decimated wildlife populations in Mozambique twenty years ago, the removal of fences separating South Africa’s Kruger Park over the past decade has provided the opportunity for the reestablishment of wildlife populations.
LNP and other regions of the GLTCA could contribute significantly to the regional viability of cheetah, wild dog and lion as it may offer connectivity between populations in South Africa and Zimbabwe (IUCN, 2006; 2007). LNP presently supports much lower prey densities than other protected areas in Southern Africa; however, confirmed sightings of cheetah and wild dog indicate that the area is being recolonized (IUCN, 2007). Furthermore, a high level of reported livestock-lion conflict from remote villages within LNP indicates that there may be a need for carnivore-human conflict mitigation measures (Chardonnet et al., 2009).
Thus, determining the population status of these threatened species in the region, and investigating human-carnivore interactions in this area will provide valuable data for their conservation management in southern Africa.
This project aims to determine the population status and distribution of cheetah, wild dog, lion and other large carnivores in the Greater Limpopo Trans frontier region of Mozambique, to investigate human-carnivore interactions in this area, and to provide information that can assist with the implementation of the Mozambique National Action Plans for cheetah, wild dog and lion.
The primary research objectives are to determine the population status and distribution of cheetah, wild dog, lion and other large carnivores within the Mozambican portion of the GLTCA.
The first phase of the project aims to provide critical baseline data, including occupancy, abundance, distribution and feeding ecology of cheetah, wild dog, lion and other large carnivores in LNP and in other areas within the Mozambican portion of the GLTCA. To achieve these objectives multiple survey methods will be used, including camera-trapping, spoor, call-ups, photographic census, and scat surveys using a scat-detection dog.
Another objective is to identify the factors that limit the abundance of these carnivores (natural and anthropogenic) in this region, using the data collected from all surveys and occupancy modelling techniques.
The second phase of the project will identify and evaluate potential linkages between protected areas of the GLTCA using cluster analysis from GPS telemetry data, prey counts, occupancy and abundance distribution data, GIS and Least Cost Path Analysis methods. In addition, we will use the cumulative data, observations and questionnaire surveys to identify sources of conflict and suggest mitigation measures.
The overall primary research objectives are consistent with the research priorities described in the Regional Conservation Strategy for cheetah and wild dog (IUCN, 2007).
To meet the challenges of obtaining sufficient population data on such low-density, wide-ranging species in an immense survey area, we will conduct thorough occupancy surveys using multiple research methods. These will include camera-trapping, spoor surveys, call-up surveys, photographic census (with the assistance of LNP game guards), prey counts and scat surveys using a scat-detection dog. Each occupancy survey will cover an area of approximately 2 500km². These surveys will permit robust abundance distribution mapping of large carnivores across a large geographical area, and provide powerful inferences about the variables that influence carnivore occurrence in this region. Where sufficient individual recapture data is available, we will also estimate the abundance of large carnivores using photographic and genetic mark-recapture.
Once the initial occupancy surveys have been completed, we will move on to collar some individual lions and wild dogs. Collaring will allow us to determine the minimum number of individuals in wild dog packs and lion prides, and also to determine home ranges and movements within the region. In addition, we will conduct questionnaire surveys and determine the extent of livestock in carnivore diet using scat analysis.
This project will benefit the conservation management of large carnivores in Southern Africa by improving knowledge on multiple species population status and distribution in a trans-boundary region where data are lacking and that has been prioritised for research by the IUCN Regional Conservation Strategy for cheetah and wild dog in Southern Africa. Results will be disseminated in annual reports to Director Nacional das Areas de Conservacao (DNAC), the governing authority for protected areas in Mozambique, which will assist with the implementation of the Mozambique National Action plans for cheetah, wild dog and lion.
In addition, a long-term monitoring protocol for large carnivores in LNP will be produced and provided to DNAC, and one of their field officers will be trained as part of the project to implement the long-term monitoring of carnivore populations in this area. Training of DNAC staff will increase their working capacity and ensure that this research has a lasting impact for conservation of these threatened species.