Good news! Two lion prides found

Obtaining the actual density of large carnivores is the primary aim of our spoor count calibration. In the last two weeks, we have been out most nights searching for hyaenas, lions and wild dogs in areas which more density data is required. Two lionesses and a spotted hyena have been collared as a result of the darting efforts of our research team (Gabriel, Olmo, Dungi and Angie-the Vet). The work involved long hours of waiting at night and our ability to find the animals. One lioness was found and collared on 9th June at a giraffe carcass and the other on 19th June in the Mokolwane area, near the Hunting camp. The hyaena was collared near our camp two days ago after intensive efforts. The collaring process was professionally and successfully executed.

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Fig 1: Angie-theVet (left) and myself-Dungi (right) taking a blood sample from the lioness we just successfully collared

lioness with newly fitted GPS collar
Figure 2: A lioness wearing a newly fitted GPS collar. This unit allows us to get data about her movement patterns.

Although the whole process has been incredibly expensive, we are so pleased that we will be able to obtain missing significant data on carnivore range and territory utilization. The number of lion prides with radio collars has now increased from three to five. This is very important as the actual density can be obtained and the spoor data can be accurately calibrated. More information is needed for spotted hyaenas and wild dog pack ranges.

  3.lion front paw 4 lion hind paw

Figure 3:Lion front paw Figure 4: Lion hind paw

Since collaring the animals, we have been successful in tracking and getting visual sightings of two out of the three collared animals. Both are in good condition following the fitting of the collars. Only one lioness has not yet been seen as she is further from camp. However, we will be tracking her soon, and will keep you up to date on her progress.

Dungi

A word on carnivore conflict issue

Livestock depredation by carnivores has a major impact on the livestock farming industry and has resulted in conflict with humans. The government of Botswana has made efforts to provide compensation for livestock losses due to predators. Regardless, most livestock owners continue to kill the perpetrators. A predator-livestock survey was conducted two years ago by some of our research colleagues and it was apparent that there is huge loss of livestock (people’s investment) due to carnivore depredation. The survey was focusing on the impact of carnivore species (with emphasis on lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyaena and African wild dog) on domestic livestock on neighboring farming areas.

How will we know status of the carnivore population in the country?  Understanding their general ecology is crucial for their conservation. It is for this reason that the Botswana Predator Conservation Program (BPCP) research team works, in collaboration with the government of Botswana, in carnivore management by providing scientific information through extensive research. Monitoring carnivore numbers is difficult, time consuming and expensive. We are introducing the spoor count technique as the most effective and easy tool to assess carnivore distribution and population trends in Botswana. We have been conducting the spoor survey in various habitats of the Okavango area. The Large Carnivore Spoor Sampling (LCSC) project involves and collaborates with work of other participating researchers in the BPCP project. Continued monitoring of population will be important because severe predator conflict and their population decline can be identified and management strategies can be applied.

Carnivore conflict is a critical issue, therefore, predator conservation needs active involvement of the stake holders (communities, farmers, hunting safaris, tour operators, etc). It is our mission to sensitize and inform people,  especially communities living close to the wildlife areas to be aware of the importance of large carnivore, and to advice them  with solutions or provide management tools they may need to reduce the carnivore conflict. This is our future goal, but unfortunately our efforts are often limited due to financial constraints.

See www.bpctrust.org  for more information on BPCP research projects

The Fate of Botswana’s Large Carnivores

In the previous post I introduced our project, and gave a brief description of what we do. Now I would like to give you highlights of some carnivore conservation  issues we’ve had before……

Monitoring carnivore numbers is crucial for their conservation and management. In order to implement appropriate wildlife management strategies and policies, information about ecology and population dynamics is a requirement.  We rely on population trends to determine whether a species is threatened or endangered. Our mission is to assist in conservation of the remaining population of Botswana’s most persecuted large carnivore species and to maintain biodiversity in the Okavango region.

The five study species (Lions, Cheetah, Leopard, Wild dog and Spotted hyaena) are of great significance to Botswana for two main reasons: Firstly, they bring revenue to the country through Eco-tourism, and secondly, they suffer from persecution by farmers as they unintentionally prey on livestock. African wild dogs and the big cats are considered as the top tourist attraction animals in Botswana. Alongside that, livestock farming is one of the main ways people support themselves in the country. These are two contradicting issues that invite the attention of conservationists and need appropriate management strategy. What action must be taken in this scenario?

Last year one of our resident radio-collared pride male lion (named Rossi) was found dead near the veterinary fence. The fence divides wildlife and livestock grazing areas. We suspected poisoning as there was no sign of bodily damage. We have also lost a number of radio-collared wild dogs in the same manner in past few years. The question is how many of others have died without our knowledge? Our study area is bordered by cattle post on the southern side, and as a result, large carnivores occasionally extend their ranges to livestock grazing area. What is the appropriate action to be taken to in order to avoid the depreciation of large carnivores and reduce the loss of livestock at the same time? This is rather not a matter of action, but, a need for scientific and practical management approach.

Visit our blog for more updates and for more information about what our project is doing as a long term solution. For example, the significance of LCSC project.

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A picture of a male lion “Dooan” who has taken over the pride after the death of Rossi.

leopard tracks

Above is a picture of   young male leopard tracks I enountered on the road when I was doing a  transect for the spoor count survey.

Welcome to the blog!

Firstly, I’ll like to introduce myself. I am a citizen of Botswana. I come from a rural area in southern Botswana characterized by dry and temperate climate and  very low  annual rainfall. My  name  is Tshepo ‘Dungi’ Kgokilwe, but I prefer being called just Dungi. My career interests have been always directed toward wildlife conservation. It has not been easy because of the fact that I was born and raised in a pastoral farming family. Being exposed to illegal activities such  as  wildlife poaching and smuggling,  I was compelled to keep my interests a secret for a very long time. Regardless, I pursued my interests and completed my Bachelor’s degree in Zoology and Wildlife Management. In 2006, I joined Botswana Predator Conservation Program (BPCP) (www.bpctrust.org), a field based research project in the Okavango area, northern Botswana. The Okavango is the most wildlife rich  area in Botswana because  mixture of wet and dry flood plains and  various woodland  habitat types. The project focuses on general ecology of large carnivores (lion, leopard, cheetah, spotted hyaena and African wild dog), with emphasis on their management through applied field research.

I currently  stay 1000km  away from the rest of my family, with  the hope to fulfill my career  interest to become a  field researcher and wildlife biologist and to acquire  skills so that I can be actively involved in wildlife conservation and management in my  country. Monitoring populations of these species is a great experience and provides information needed to help manage them. My focus is now on developing an indirect census method that can be used to estimate large carnivore density in various habitats found in northern Botswana. This will enable us to determine their population distribution and trends. We have proposed a technique that uses animal tracks to index carnivore abundance, the Large Carnivore Spoor Count (LCSC) specifically calibrated to our habitats. My hope and ambition is to complete a Master’s degree with a university offering conservation biology courses.

 What we do

We live in a remote camp in tents only about two hours from the nearest town where we can buy fuel and food. Our everyday activities involve radio-tracking and following large carnivores to collect observations. We have the several (still working) radio collars on study animals in all five species in our study area: three hyaenas in three clans, three leopards, four cheetahs, six lions in three prides and a couple collars each on four packs of wild dogs. The main objective of monitoring these species is to collect information  about thier reproductive and ranging behavior as well as individual life histories. In general,  field work has not been easy in this region basically because of the thick vegetation, lack of roads, and difficult weather conditions.

 Tracking a lioness-Tragedy!!

Let me share with you  recent experience when I was tracking a radio-collared  lioness which currently has four -4 month old cubs. It was about 5 p.m .Everything went very well and I got quite close without being able to see her. I decided to go around the thick bush to have a visual of her and the vehicle went into a huge hole. The back wheel was completely suspended in the air and the vehicle was just about to tilt over on one side. I had to stand on the other side (passenger side) to put weight so that it stayed balanced. The lioness was about 10m from the vehicle. The cubs kept approaching and checking out what was going on. I did not bother to take pictures as it was already dark and I  was a bit frightened.  I called a rescue car from camp. Two vehicles came after an hour. It took two land rovers, one pulling the other, to pull the vehicle out of the hole.  Below is a picture of me and the vehicle taken by my rescue team.

Stuck in a hole

Soon I will write more about my focal project and how I go about developing the survey methods we hope can be applied across the region.