Researcher: Dr. Matthew S. Becker
Region: Eastern Zambia
Wild dog are a highly endangered, wide-ranging, and low-density carnivore whose populations are poorly described in Zambia, despite it being one of only six countries remaining on the continent considered to have viable populations of this species. Wild dog have been studied in the mid-Zambezi since 1999 after the IUCN/SSC Canid Specialist Group identified the research and conservation of populations in Zambia as a priority in its 1997 action plan. As with most large carnivores, wild dog have been heavily impacted by habitat loss and the associated effects of human encroachment, disease, and direct persecution, as well as the problems inherent in small populations with low genetic diversity. Consequently, the conservation of large connected areas with in-situ populations of wild dog has been recommended as a priority in the 2004 African Wild Dog Action Plan.
Eastern Zambia largely comprises a national park and Game-Management Area (GMA) network collectively spanning over 70 000 km2 (43 496 square miles) of remote, unfenced, and relatively undisturbed corridor managed for wildlife. Due to tsetse fly-borne disease, livestock and the associated carnivore conflicts are few; however poaching for meat and ivory is common. African wild dogs are resident in and around the protected areas of the region although their abundance, population trends, limiting factors and the degree of exchange between populations are poorly understood.
Thus work initiated by the Zambia Carnivore Programme (ZCP; originally African Wild Dog Conservation) in the Luangwa valley in 2005 (as a continuation of research and conservation efforts begun in 1999) is aimed at describing and maintaining wild dog metapopulation dynamics and strengthening protection of this unique and important wildlife corridor.
There are indications that eastern Zambia may have one of the more significant remaining wild dog populations in Africa, one that is of even more significance in its potential to connect eastern and southern African wild dog populations in Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Botswana
In accordance with IUCN recommendations, ZCP’s efforts are targeted at expanding African wild dog conservation into larger areas to increase the viability of the population. To provide sustainability of wild dog conservation in Zambia, ZCP’s key objectives are to:
- Collaborate with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) and project partners to secure sufficient habitat to allow natural dispersal between wild dog populations in the Lower Zambezi and South Luangwa National Parks, by increasing connectivity between the two Parks through existing Game Management Areas.
- Continue the current applied research programme to provide high-quality data for use in conservation strategies and National Park management planning in the eastern Zambia region.
- Develop and expand the local school and adult education programme to increase awareness and reduce direct and indirect persecution of wild dogs, and to build community support for the project.
- Collaborate with ZAWA, Department of Veterinary and Livestock Development and local stakeholders to build capacity and ensure implementation of an ongoing conservation management plan for the local wild dog populations.
Collaring and Monitoring of Packs and Dispersing Groups
Field research methods will follow those established by ZCP over the last 10 years, namely collecting detailed data on wild dog demographics, spatial dynamics, genetics, disease exposure, habitat selection, prey selection, interspecific competition, and limiting factors and threats to their persistence. Data will be collected via VHF, GPS, and satellite collars on various individuals and packs.
Competing Carnivore, Prey, and Habitat Studies
AWDC has expanded into a broad-based carnivore study and thus will also be conducting concurrent studies on instrumented lion and hyaena populations in an effort to better understand the dynamics of these three species. In addition, annual prey and competing carnivore surveys conducted since 1999 will be continued, as well as vegetation mapping, and remote sensing work as part of additional funding leveraged through ZCP collaborations.
Addressing Snaring Threats
As part of their anti-poaching work, the South Luangwa Conservation Society and Conservation Lower Zambezi will also coordinate ZAWA and community scouts to conduct anti-snaring patrols in areas of high risk for dogs, as identified by the movement data collected by the project. When snares are encountered they will be removed and coordinates recorded, with data incorporated into threat assessments and evaluations of the effectiveness of these efforts in decreasing snaring mortalities for wild dogs.
Annual Report 2011
The 2010 field season marked the formal transition of African Wild Dog Conservation Trust into the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), reflecting the expansion of focus from a single species-single area to a nationwide organisation with an emphasis on conservation of all large carnivore species and the ecosystems in which they reside.
With the assistance of the Wilderness Trust, intensive studies of African wild dog and lion continued in the Luangwa Valley. Minimum estimates of dog populations in the system for 2010 were over 110 adults. Dog presence continued to be documented in previously undescribed areas, the most notable of which was Lukusuzi National Park, the last of the protected areas in the Luangwa and mid-Zambezi valleys to have dogs present – further emphasising the importance of eastern Zambia for wild dog conservation.
However small pack size, poor pup production, low dispersal success and short pack tenure was observed in several packs, particularly in the Game Management Areas (GMAs) and believed to be largely due to snaring mortalities. Anti-snaring efforts in collaboration with the Wilderness Trust-supported South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS) continued and intensified this year for both wild dog and lion in the study area, however both species were still heavily impacted by snaring.
Intensive lion work in the Luangwa was expanded to the Luamfwa area in 2010 with the first radio-collaring of a resident male coalition and preliminary data from lion research was provided to the Zambia Wildlife Authority to assist in lion management and quota setting. Intensive studies of wild dog and cheetah were approved by the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) in the country’s largest potential population for both species, the Kafue National Park and its surrounding GMAs. Spanning over 70 000 km2 [Kafue is 22 500?] and believed to hold the country’s largest populations of both species, the Kafue fieldwork will initially base out of northern Kafue with the support of Wilderness Safaris. ZCP now works on all the country’s major populations for both species.