Zambian Carnivore Programme


Zambian Carnivore Programme

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Cheetahs' rarity and elusiveness poses a problem for conservationists. To conserve the species, we need to know where they still persist, and whether their numbers are increasing or decreasing. But how can we quickly and cheaply estimate their abundance? Over more than two decades of studying and conserving cheetahs, I have tried many ways of counting them. I have tried simply looking for cheetahs and individually identifying them. This works well. But it requires cheetahs that don't flee from vehicles, an open habitat – and a lot of time and patience. In short, this approach only works on the Serengeti plains and has been key to our long-term Serengeti Cheetah Project which has gathered information on individually known cheetah for decades. I have tried counting spoor – cheetah footprints left in the dust of dirt roads. Even in the Serengeti, where cheetah densities are at their highest, I had to drive an average of 50km to find just a single spoor. At least 30 such observations are needed for a reliable density estimate. Remote camera traps can also work in some circumstances and citizen science in tourist areas. But none of these methods work across different habitats, and all need substantial infrastructure and considerable investment in time. Could the answer to finding cheetah lie with another animal? Dogs have some of the world's most sensitive snouts. We put these to the test in a remote corner of Zambia. One of the things dogs can sniff out very successfully – as any canine's owner will know – is poop. But poop has important properties beside smell. Food, as it passes through the digestive tract and rectum, accumulates DNA from the intestinal and rectal walls, which becomes embedded within the poop. This DNA is a unique genetic signature of individuals. Therefore if you can find cheetah scat, you can extract DNA and identify the genotype of that individual. Cheetahs defecate at least once a day, hence cheetah scat should occur across a landscape more frequently than the cheetah themselves. It follows that, if you can find enough scat and extract DNA from it, you may be able to estimate the numbers of individual cheetah in the population. Finding scat, rather than cheetah, has the added advantage in that scat doesn't run away. So far, so good. But there is a flaw in this plan. Cheetahs, who are largely non territorial, don't defecate in nice, easy to find, prominent locations. As a result, their scat is extremely difficult to detect. Harnessing the power of the canine snout This is where the poop-detecting power of the canine snout comes into play. Domestic dogs are increasingly playing an important role in conservation. Organisations such as Working Dogs for Conservation, and Green Dogs specialise in training domestic dogs for conservation work. They harness the dogs' natural poop detection ability, by training them to find poop of a particular species, signal their trainer when they have found it, and, above all, resist the temptation to eat any poop they find. Could domestic dogs be the key to counting cheetah? Together with my colleagues from the Zambian Carnivore Programme and the Zambia Department of National Parks and Wildlife, we teamed up with Working Dogs for Conservation and Green Dogs to put domestic dogs to the test. This is what brought a team of large carnivore conservationists, two dogs (Faust and Pepin) and their trainers to a remote corner of western Zambia, where a low density, but unknown, population of cheetah still survives in and around the Liuwa Plain National Park. At first, the dogs struggled to find scat on our pre-designated dog walking transects. This was when we started to notice the conspicuous absence of the dogs' poop around our camp. On closer inspection, we were alarmed to discover that, no sooner had a new deposition of poop been made, a small army of dung beetles appeared and started rolling it away in large bundles. A large healthy pile of steaming dog poop could disappear completely in a matter of hours. Having been an observer of cheetah poop in the Serengeti over many years, this was a first for me, and it caused me a substantial amount of anxiety. Fortunately, as the dogs moved south, they started to find cheetah scat laden with bone and hair. This, presumably, was much less appealing to a passing dung beetle. In fact, the dogs turned out to be very successful at finding cheetah scat. In all, they found 27 scats over a survey area of 2,400km2. Humans, on similar transects looking for spoor, found none. This neatly demonstrated the superiority of the canine snout over the human eye when it came to detecting the presence of cheetah. These scats were combined with a number of opportunistically collected scat. The DNA extracted from the scat samples were of poor quality, and so interpreting the genotypes wasn't always easy. However, we were able to generate an estimate of between 17-19 cheetah in the area, with a density of 6-7 individuals per 1000km2. The preliminary estimate of genetic effective population size was low, at just 8-14 individuals, and requires further investigation. Many areas where cheetah still survive are remote and difficult to access. Prior to this study, there were no viable methods for obtaining reliable information on cheetah abundance in most of these areas. The beauty of using detection dogs was that surveys could be conducted on foot, and the whole survey took not much more than three weeks, although genetic work could take substantially more time. Our study, therefore, provides an important step forward in our ability to detect cheetahs across large landscapes, monitor them and assess population trends. Such information is critical for mobilising conservation action and resources to halt the global decline of this elusive and secretive big cat. Explore further: Using dogs to find cats

Lindsey P.A.,Panthera | Lindsey P.A.,University of Pretoria | Nyirenda V.R.,Zambia Wildlife Authority | Barnes J.I.,Design and Development Services | And 6 more authors.
PLoS ONE | Year: 2014

Many African protected areas (PAs) are not functioning effectively. We reviewed the performance of Zambia's PA network and provide insights into how their effectiveness might be improved. Zambia's PAs are under-performing in ecological, economic and social terms. Reasons include: a) rapidly expanding human populations, poverty and open-access systems in Game Management Areas (GMAs) resulting in widespread bushmeat poaching and habitat encroachment; b) underfunding of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) resulting in inadequate law enforcement; c) reliance of ZAWA on extracting revenues from GMAs to cover operational costs which has prevented proper devolution of user-rights over wildlife to communities; d) on-going marginalization of communities from legal benefits from wildlife; e) under-development of the photo-tourism industry with the effect that earnings are limited to a fraction of the PA network; f) unfavourable terms and corruption which discourage good practice and adequate investment by hunting operators in GMAs; g) blurred responsibilities regarding anti-poaching in GMAs resulting in under-investment by all stakeholders. The combined effect of these challenges has been a major reduction in wildlife densities in most PAs and the loss of habitat in GMAs. Wildlife fares better in areas with investment from the private and/or NGO sector and where human settlement is absent. There is a need for: elevated government funding for ZAWA; greater international donor investment in protected area management; a shift in the role of ZAWA such that they focus primarily on national parks while facilitating the development of wildlife-based land uses by other stakeholders elsewhere; and new models for the functioning of GMAs based on joint-ventures between communities and the private and/or NGO sector. Such joint-ventures should provide defined communities with ownership of land, user-rights over wildlife and aim to attract long-term private/donor investment. These recommendations are relevant for many of the under-funded PAs occurring in other African countries. © 2014 Lindsey et al.

PubMed | Cheetah Conservation Project Zimbabwe, Heritage Foundation, Environment General Authority EGA, Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and 27 more.
Type: Journal Article | Journal: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | Year: 2016

Establishing and maintaining protected areas (PAs) are key tools for biodiversity conservation. However, this approach is insufficient for many species, particularly those that are wide-ranging and sparse. The cheetah Acinonyx jubatus exemplifies such a species and faces extreme challenges to its survival. Here, we show that the global population is estimated at 7,100 individuals and confined to 9% of its historical distributional range. However, the majority of current range (77%) occurs outside of PAs, where the species faces multiple threats. Scenario modeling shows that, where growth rates are suppressed outside PAs, extinction rates increase rapidly as the proportion of population protected declines. Sensitivity analysis shows that growth rates within PAs have to be high if they are to compensate for declines outside. Susceptibility of cheetah to rapid decline is evidenced by recent rapid contraction in range, supporting an uplisting of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List threat assessment to endangered. Our results are applicable to other protection-reliant species, which may be subject to systematic underestimation of threat when there is insufficient information outside PAs. Ultimately, conserving many of these species necessitates a paradigm shift in conservation toward a holistic approach that incentivizes protection and promotes sustainable human-wildlife coexistence across large multiple-use landscapes.

Watson F.,California State University, Monterey Bay | Becker M.S.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | Becker M.S.,Montana State University | McRobb R.,South Luangwa Conservation Society | Kanyembo B.,South Luangwa Conservation Society
Biological Conservation | Year: 2013

Wire-snare poaching is fueling the rapidly growing illegal bushmeat trade in Africa's savanna ecosystems given the region's relatively abundant wildlife, increasing commercial bushmeat demand, and burgeoning human populations; thus understanding snaring dynamics is critical to addressing this crisis. Community conservation areas often border National Parks (NPs) and are intended to serve as buffer zones wherein sustainable, wildlife-based economies exist. Yet their success is poorly-evaluated, partly due to poorly-understood poaching patterns and the impact of human development in these zones. We investigated snaring patterns in Zambia's South Luangwa National Park and adjacent community Game Management Areas (GMAs) using highly-trained four-person teams to conduct 116 snare surveys at stratified random locations across approximately 6661km2 from September 2011 to November 2012. We postulated that snaring would be predicted by land use, crops, roads, and permanent water. Using novel multi-logistic models, we found decisive evidence that snaring only occurred in GMAs and immediately adjacent NP areas. Within these areas, we found substantial evidence that snaring was constrained by road proximity, moderate evidence for water constraints, and equivocal evidence for crop constraints. Snare detection rates in these areas were 60%. Evaluating finer-scale GMA snaring patterns requires more data; however strong correlation between snaring and human development in protected area buffer zones necessitates increased caution and carefully planned community development initiatives, and the adoption and enforcement of well-zoned land-use plans. Incentives aimed at increasing agricultural development in buffer zones should be redirected away from these zones to reduce encroachment and poaching and protect wildlife-based economies. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.

Becker M.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | Becker M.,Montana State University | McRobb R.,South Luangwa Conservation Society | Watson F.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | And 6 more authors.
Biological Conservation | Year: 2013

Wire snare poaching is widespread in Africa yet snaring trends, patterns and the impacts of by-catch on non-target threatened species such as elephant (Loxodonta africana), lion (Panthera leo) and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) are poorly understood. We conducted retrospective analyses of data from 1038 anti-poaching patrols conducted in Zambia's Luangwa valley from December 2005 to November 2010, to evaluate snaring dynamics and the effect of season, patrol size and length on snare detection. We also assessed impacts of by-catch on elephant, lion, and wild dog populations critical to the area's wildlife tourism-based economy. Snaring mortality increased overall elephant poaching offtake by 32%. Approximately 11.5% of the adult and subadult lion population and 20% of the adult (>4. years) males were snared. Snared dogs occurred in 67% of packs (n= 6), comprising 14-50% of adult and yearling pack members (median = 20%) and 6-16% of a resident population (median = 6%) already at minimum viable pack size (mean = 5.6). Evidence for seasonal and annual trends differed by patrol type, yet substantial evidence of positive interannual and seasonal trends in snaring existed and there was no evidence of a decreasing trend. Because patrols are intended to reduce poaching and enforcement is adaptive toward increasing snare detection, evaluations of snaring trends from patrol data are potentially confounded; thus we recommend that a portion of the overall patrol effort for anti-poaching should be devoted to non-adaptive surveys under fixed, well-designed protocols to enable unbiased tracking of snaring trends over time and objective evaluation of anti-poaching and community conservation efforts. In addition precautionary management emphasizing increased law enforcement is essential to protect existing wildlife-based economies and resources. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.

Watson F.G.R.,California State University, Monterey Bay | Becker M.S.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | Becker M.S.,Montana State University | Milanzi J.,Zambia Wildlife Authority | Nyirenda M.,Worldwide Fund for Nature
Regional Environmental Change | Year: 2014

Large carnivores are declining globally, with strong direct and indirect ecological impacts on protected area networks (PANs). Human encroachment on ecosystems is a global threat for large carnivores, particularly in savanna Africa, where increasing human resource demands continue to degrade the connectivity and viability PANs. Zambia has a regionally significant role in large carnivore conservation, given that it borders eight countries, includes three transfrontier conservation areas (TFCAs), and manages nearly 40 % of its land for wildlife. Deforestation in general and encroachment in particular are recognized problems in Zambian natural resource management. However, specific impacts on PANs are poorly understood owing to a lack of adequate mapping of encroachment, deriving from widespread difficulty in mapping cultivation and clearing in fire-prone savannas, and severe inaccuracy in several previous land cover data sets. Using simple manual interpretation of diverse and carefully chosen remote sensing imagery, we evaluated land use change from 1965 to 2011 in Zambia, primarily in the Luangwa Valley. We found widespread encroachment extending toward national parks from major roads as fast as 2 km/year and averaging 18 hectares per hour of daylight throughout a 159,805 km2 study area, eliminating designated buffer zones in some areas, decreasing connectivity, and potentially eliminating viable TFCAs. At current rates, Zambia’s PANs would be expected to be reduced into small isolated pockets primarily centered on national parks, with substantial human edge effects threatening the viability of wildlife populations in the region, particularly wide-ranging, low density, and threatened large carnivores such as African wild dogs, cheetah, and lion. It is thus critical that encroachment is accurately mapped across the entire region and that land use plans are developed, implemented, revised where necessary, and enforced with strong governmental support, enabling protection of these areas and the communities that depend upon them. © 2014, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Williams B.M.,University of Georgia | Berentsen A.,U.S. Department of Agriculture | Shock B.C.,University of Georgia | Teixiera M.,University of Georgia | And 5 more authors.
Parasitology Research | Year: 2014

A molecular survey was conducted for several hemoparasites of domestic dogs and three species of wild carnivores from two sites in Zambia. Three Babesia spp. were detected including Babesia felis and Babesia leo in lions (Panthera leo) and a Babesia sp. (similar to Babesia lengau) in spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) and a single lion. All wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) and domestic dogs were negative for Babesia. High prevalences for Hepatozoon were noted in all three wild carnivores (38-61 %) and in domestic dogs (13 %). Significantly higher prevalences were noted in hyenas and wild dogs compared with domestic dogs and lions. All carnivores were PCR negative for Ehrlichia canis, Ehrlichia ewingii, and Bartonella spp. Overall, high prevalences and diversity of Babesia and Hepatozoon were noted in wild carnivores from Zambia. This study is the first molecular characterization of Babesia from any hyena species and is the first report of a Babesia sp. closely related to B. lengau, a parasite previously only reported from cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), in lions and hyenas. Although usually benign in wild carnivores, these hemoparasites can be pathogenic under certain circumstances. Importantly, data on vectors for these parasites are lacking, so studies are needed to identify vectors as well as determine transmission routes, infection dynamics, and host specificity of these hemoparasites in wildlife in Africa and also the risk of transmission between domestic animals and wildlife. © 2013 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Becker M.S.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | Becker M.S.,Montana State University | Watson F.G.R.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | Watson F.G.R.,California State University, Monterey Bay | And 5 more authors.
Journal of Wildlife Management | Year: 2013

African lions (Panthera leo) are declining continent-wide, with protected area populations subject to a variety of anthropogenic effects. Zambia contains viable lion populations of considerable importance for photographic and hunting tourism, but long-term lion demographic data do not exist to guide recent management directives and population projections under different strategies. We described population size, as well as age and sex structure of lions in 3 Zambian national park populations bordering hunting areas, and found them to be male-depleted relative to other systems. We then estimated rates of adult male loss leading to male depletion in these populations and the effect of different future hunting management options on population characteristics. Predictions from matrix population models constructed within a Bayesian framework confirmed that the observed population structure was likely due to high rates of adult male loss and that instituting age limits on male harvests with quota reductions would reduce male depletion, improve tourism by providing older and more abundant males, and slightly increase population size. Reducing male mortality from wire snare poaching would also result in similar demographic impacts, and in concert with changes in hunting regulations would substantially improve the quality and quantity of adult male lions. However, model results varied depending on whether we assumed historical population stability. Predictions assuming negative historical growth rate indicated that substantially more conservative lion harvest management is warranted. We discuss the relevance of these findings for maintaining viable lion populations in and around protected areas in Zambia. Copyright © 2012 The Wildlife Society.

Halloran K.M.,University of Vermont | Murdoch J.D.,University of Vermont | Becker M.S.,Zambian Carnivore Programme | Becker M.S.,Montana State University
African Journal of Ecology | Year: 2015

Digital photography enables researchers to rapidly compile large quantities of data from individually identifiable animals, and computer software improves the management of such large datasets while aiding the identification process. Wild-ID software has performed well with uniform datasets controlling for angle and portion of the animal photographed; however, few datasets are collected under such controlled conditions. We examined the effectiveness of Wild-ID in identifying individual Thornicroft's giraffe from a dataset of photographs (n = 552) collected opportunistically in the Luangwa Valley, Zambia from March to October 2009. We assessed the programme's accuracy in correctly identifying individuals and the effect of five image quality factors on identification success: blurriness, background type and complexity, amount of sky and the presence of other giraffe. The programme correctly identified individuals in 71.6% of photographs. Background complexity was the only significant variable affecting identification success and removing background imagery reduced identification error by 52.8% (from 28.4 to 13.4%). Our results indicate higher levels of error than previously reported for Wild-ID. However, they also suggest the programme is an effective tool for quickly identifying individuals in large field datasets, especially if photograph backgrounds are removed beforehand and postanalysis visual verification is performed. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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