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What we are currently working on...


David Youldon

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Download the latest newsletter (c. 0.9 mb) at

September newsletter

This month's issue includes...

• Renewed calls to upgrade Panthera leo to CITES Appendix I...
• ALERT’s response to the proposal… (also see previous post in this blog)
• Another week and another victim falls foul to Kwandi…
• The last time the 2Bs were featured in this newsletter…
• The 4Ss continue at full steam with their Night Encounter careers...
• The final hunting update of the month comes from Antelope Park’s 2Es...
• Elephant mitigation trials commence in Livingstone…
• ALERT & CCWA current and future research priorities…
• The last roar: Facilitated research

We've made it easier to support the work of ALERT. In order to make it easier for you to show your support of ALERT's vital work we have provided links from our web site http://www.lionalert.org to our upgraded secure on-line payment system.

NEWSFLASH

Antelope Park to feature in National Geographic series highlighting unique tourism destinations in Africa.

Lion Encounter Zimbabwe featured in an article by the Sydney Morning Herald http://www.smh.com.au/travel/a-walk-in-the...90904-fb3v.html

Lion Encounter to feature for three months on Ethiopian airlines inflight magazine Selamta for three months from October to December.

Cycling from Cape to Cape

Former volunteer and ALERT facilitated research students Andreas Doppelmayr and Øyvind Handberg with their friend Jørn Pedersen are attempting the incredible feat of cycling from Norway's Northern Cape to South Africa's Cape Agulhas; a distance of some 20,000km that will see them ravelling through 20 countries and take one and a half years.

Along the way they will raise awareness and funds for several causes including ALERT.

On 25th August 2009 the trio set off on this epic journey that will see them arrive at our project location in Livingstone Zambia sometime in 2010 enroute to their final detsination.

You can follow their progress and support their journey at their web site http://www.bikecape2cape.com and on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/Bi...com/70777478911

Good luck guys!

Future & current research priorities

ALERT and CCWA engage in a range of research programs, ALERT concentrates on in-situ and ex-situ conservation of the flagship species; the African lion, while CCWA focuses on other species, both fauna and flora, with which the lion shares its environment. Helping to form necessary program protocols and future management strategies we’ve detailed just some of our current research programs – as well as some that are in the pipeline – below:

ALERT Studies

Assessment of character traits in African lions:
It is believed that lionesses can take any of three roles in a pride; that of alpha, hunter or mother. Similarly, males can be good hunters, pride defenders or fathers. Given the spectrum of necessary individuals and skills that contribute towards a successful pride, it is important that the prides released into stages two and three of the program are well-balanced to ensure all parts of pride life are tended to. Therefore, all stage one cubs are observed at three-month intervals for a number of behaviours that can help predict the role which they may excel at, leading to improved release pride selections.

Activity budgets in African lions:
An activity budget is based on a simple ethogram and is a way of representing an animal’s behaviour by recording the duration of defined activities; such as resting, social behaviours and eating.

The behaviour of an animal is controlled by the endocrine and nervous system, hence it is affected by the environment the animal is in. It is quite obvious that the behaviour of an animal in captivity will differ from that of an animal in its natural environment, as captive environments usually restrict animals from performing some species specific behaviours, which can manifest in abnormal behaviours usually termed as stereotypic.

The primary objective of this study is to identify how age, gender, enclosure size and complexity affect the activity budgets of the African lions in the program. Measuring activity levels in lions provides important information about their behavioural ecology and is a relevant factor in ex-situ management; providing information on the possible causes of any abnormal behaviour and results on the healthiest social group formations and enclosure stimulation.

Factors influencing the variation of mane development in captive-bred lions:
Here we look at the variations of mane development in a population of captive-bred lions and the possible causes behind such adaptations. Monthly surveys into the length, colour and thickness are conducted on all of the program’s males, as well as monitoring the changing condition of the mane and overall body condition. The variations in mane development are then correlated to paternal and maternal blood lines as well as changes in location, climate, nutrition, group structure and physiological condition.

Hunting success in captive-bred lions:
Data is collected on all chases, stalks and kills made by the cubs in stage one, both while walking and on those young lions in the Night Encounter program, to assess the variable development of hunting success in the lions of the African Lion Rehabilitation & Release into the Wild Program. Factors such as ground cover, wind direction and moon luminosity on night hunts are also recorded to ascertain if such variables contribute to the overall success in a hunt, and therefore determine if the captive-bred lions are achieving hunting success comparable to that of wild lions.

Hunting strategy in captive-bred lions:
The lion release program affords the opportunity to observe lions hunting in a way that is very difficult with wild lions. Such studies will assist in understanding the strategies that lions use whilst hunting; what co-operation is present, and whether individual lions learn techniques or hunting styles that when used improve their hunting success rate.

Spoor as an indicator of age in African lions:
Each month the spoor of all the stage one cubs is measured; recording pad length, total length and total width of the front and back spoor, as well as the stride and straddle distances. This exercise is repeated where possible on various surfaces – fine sand, coarse sand etc... – as the size of an individual’s spoor is substrate specific.

The intention is that the results of this study will help us find a range of rate of growth of the lion’s spoor and this will be useful in helping to understand the pride structure of unseen lions in the wild.

Assessing the age of African lions by nose pigmentation:
Given the common practice within hunting circles of ageing wild lions through the degree of nose pigmentation, this study involves taking annual nose shots from each lion within the program and monitoring the rate at which the noses darken in order to determine whether pigmentation can be a reliable marker of age.

Monitoring of FIV lions in captivity:
Little is known of the effects of FIV on lions either in captivity or in the wild, a virus which is believed to be present in almost 100% of adult lions in eastern and southern Africa. Studies into the effects of the disease are extremely difficult to conduct on wild lions, however close monitoring of a group of FIV positive lions kept under the same conditions as FIV negative ones has the potential for important discoveries about the effects and course of the disease.

CCWA Studies

Vulture population monitoring:
The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is one of the rarest species found in Zimbabwe and so far the only record the organisation Birdlife Zimbabwe has of the species is a photograph at Antelope Park’s ‘Vulture’s Restaurant’. The vulture monitoring program extends to the six vulture species known to visit Antelope Park and includes bird counts, feeding behaviour extending to locating and protecting breeding sites as well as providing an important food source and crushed bones.

Ground hornbill status assessment in the Zambezi National Park:
The ground hornbill (Bucorvus leadbeateri), a bird indigenous in southern Africa to Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo province and scattered around northern Namibia, is an unmistakable-looking bird with a conspicuous red face and throat patches and a large black de-curved bill.

There are many myths surrounding the ground hornbill, such as the belief that it is ‘muti’ (medicine) for bringing rains. In some areas they are considered sacred, while in others it is thought that in large numbers they signal drought.

Regarded as vulnerable in South Africa, a population estimate of 1,500 to 2,000 has been put forth, and Zimbabwe’s population is believed to be on the decline as well. Habitat fragmentation has resulted in fewer suitable areas for the hornbills to occupy, but they have also been killed through feeding on poisoned meat, left for problem carnivores predating on farmer’s livestock as well as being killed for meat in their own right.

Sable habitat selection in the Zambezi National Park:
Debates among large mammal natural scientists have developed on the effect of sport hunting on wildlife populations. One side argues that hunted mammals have adjusted to hunting pressure and therefore thrive better than those in non-hunting areas while the other side believes the opposite is true. Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park is contiguous with the Kazuma Pan-Matetsi-Hwange complex, forming a total conservation area of over 1,846,700ha, excluding forest reserves. Of particular interest to this study is the Matetsi Safari area where sport hunting is permitted.

This is a specific study of sable antelope and is a comparison of habitat use between safari areas and National Parks. The central hypothesis is that hunted sable will select safer but not optimal habitat for the species. Utilisation levels of sable quotas have been recorded to be 100% in all years, and therefore represent a species with high hunting pressure; hence its selection among many other large herbivores for this study.

It is hoped that the results of the study will allow improved conservation management plans to be created for the species, with consideration for other species resident in the Park as well, with particular respect to the regulations controlling sport hunting within the area.

Biodiversity monitoring in the Zambezi National Park:
Six kilometres from the Victoria Falls lies the 52,600 hectare Zambezi National Park; wild with bush and big game it stretches along the Zambezi River for 40 kilometres.

Game includes mega fauna such as elephant (Loxodonta Africana), buffalo (Syncerus caffer) and lion (Panthera leo); antelope including the greater kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus), along with a large number of smaller mammal species such as small-spotted genet (Genetta genetta) and honey badger (Mellivora capensis).

In addition to the above mentioned Kazuma Pan-Matetsi-Hwange complex, the Zambezi National Park and surrounding safari areas are also part of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area, established with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Situated in the Okavango and Zambezi River basins and incorporating 36 National Parks, game reserves, community conservancies and game management areas the total conservation area spans approximately 287, 132km².

The results of the study coupled with comparison to historical data collected since the 1970s will allow improved conservation management plans to be created, especially in respect to the development of the Transfrontier Park.

Wild dog monitoring in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park:
Historically, this highly social carnivore was believed to constitute some 500,000 dogs roaming 39 countries; however, over the last century populations have been all but eradicated from West Africa and greatly reduced in central and north-east Africa with 25 of 39 former range states no longer supporting populations. This dramatic decline in wild dog populations has led to it being red listed as endangered by the IUCN.

Cited as extinct in the 66km² Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park by Woodroffe et al, towards the end of 2008 two wild dogs were observed in the Park, and since then dozens of sightings of as many as eight dogs in the Park have been reported.

We are currently working with Zambia Wildlife Authority to collar the pack in order to understand how they are using the region and fit into the broader metapopulation of southern Zambia in order to propose protection solutions for them.

Large predator assessment in the Zambezi National Park:
The Zambezi National Park is home to five species of large predator including spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), leopard (Panthera pardus), lion (Panthera leo) and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Densities of large predator species are estimated to be low despite the fact that a high concentration of antelope exists in the basalt woodlands below the sand ridge and stretching all the way to the Zambezi River. This habitat should under normal circumstances be good hunting ground for predators and should therefore support a healthy population. Knowledge of a reliable estimate of predator populations will go a long way in understanding predator-prey ratios and relationships in the eco-system. Predators provide a sure check on mammal populations in the Park, hence reducing chances of overutilization of browse and graze.

The study will establish baseline data of populations for each of the five large predators within the ZNP such that species specific studies can be developed to determine many aspects of predator social organisations, local habitat use and ecology. The end goal of this study is to assist in the creation of sound conservation management plans for all large predator species within the ZNP, which could include reintroductions of certain species into the area.

Invasive alien plant species removal in Victoria Falls National Park
The eco-system of Victoria Falls National Park is a relic of a rainforest that closely resembles that of a true equatorial rainforest; the vegetation being supported by a seasonal spray of water from the Falls. These conditions have supported the growth of invasive alien plant species (IAPS) over at least the last 30 years, such as lantana camara, ageratum houstonianum, nephrolepsis cordifolia, ipomea carica and solanum seaforthianum. These plants have been known to invade and replace indigenous vegetation that might result in the local extinction of some species. Our hope is to eradicate IAPS in the Victoria Falls National Park.

Biological monitoring in Victoria Falls National Park:
To complement the IAPS eradication effort a biological monitoring programme has been embarked upon, aimed at mapping eradicated areas, evaluating its success and measuring vegetation change directly resulting from eradication activities. Various parameters are measured seasonally and trends are monitored to depict change in vegetation in this unique habitat in order to prepare improved management plans for the Park.

Elephant monitoring in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park:
By understanding the ecology of elephants within MOT NP, we hope to be able to propose improved management plans for the species in an area prone to significant conflict between humans and elephants and vegetation damage within the Park. Looking at how the species uses the Park during different seasons will then be compared to data collated on local farms that have been raided.

Waterhole restoration in ZNP:
The Zambezi National Park is divided into two distinct areas; north and south of the Kazungula Road. The area to the north has sufficient water supply in the form of the Zambezi River and a spring line, however the southern section is dry with no natural water points.

The consequent concentration of animal species in the north during the dry season exerts ecological pressure as well as focussing tourist vehicles, putting strain on the Park’s limited road system and accelerating soil erosion.

The justification for providing an artificial water source for conservation related reasons are:
• the provision of water to small mammals with limited home ranges which have to move during the dry season as they cannot feed in the southern area with no local water
• if water is supplied in the southern section more tourists will conduct games drives in this area, reliving the pressure on the northern section
• the water point will attract bigger animals, spreading habitat use evenly across the Park; a World Heritage Convention requirement so that mega herbivore populations spread their impact of use
• the northern area of the Park is close to human settlements and as such poaching pressure is severe, particularly during the dry season when game is concentrated in north due to lack of water in the south.

Wildlife-human conflict mitigation:
The solution suggested by African communities to the challenge of protecting crops and livestock is simple; kill all the wildlife.

Elephants are seen as the overriding problem with leopard, hyena and lion coming in a close second. Baboon and buffalo also come under fire – and not even the lowly spring hare is spared the communities’ wrath.

When people talk about habitat protection it is of legal protection; laws forbidding communities access to areas where wildlife lives and from utilising the resources of the land on which their ancestors have subsisted for centuries.

Wildlife is perceived by local communities as having negative economic value, either through loss of life, livestock and crops or through the loss of income-generating opportunities restricted by protection of habitat. Legal protection has questionable value when it concerns a species that comes into conflict with people, often in remote areas with poor infrastructure. Under such circumstances, according to the IUCN, legal protection may only alienate people from conservation activities.

Other cultural barriers also exist. Individuals who take up the challenge and have seen the proposed systems working; reaping for them economic benefits and reduced wildlife conflict have kept hidden their success lest their neighbours discover the secret. And communities that have become reliant on hand-outs from NGOs for no work on their own part are suggesting workable solutions to their problems but choosing not to implement them as it means they will have to do the work themselves.

We are under no illusions that to succeed in creating real grass roots developed protection of wildlife is an enormous challenge.

Urban agriculture:
As habitats are over-utilised the natural processes that offer vital resources are compromised. By protecting environments, even small eco-systems, whilst developing sustainable use programs, we can ensure those resources can meet the demands of future communities.

The broad strategic goal of the project is to assist orphans, other vulnerable children, people living with HIV, the elderly and destitute to showcase best practices and restore the integrity of earth’s ecological system, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life, to affirm gender equality and equity as a prerequisite to responsible development and ensure access to health and economic opportunity.

Conservation education:
There has been perpetual hostility and conflict between park managers and communities where the latter view wildlife as a threat to their existence and not as a heritage resource to be managed. There is a need to coexist with wildlife and make every effort to conserve it for future generations. This can in part achieved through education on the benefits that wildlife has on maintain eco-systems and therefore ensuring the resources on which communities rely on.

Projects in prep:
• Disease testing and ecological monitoring of lions in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique.
• Disease testing Gonerezhou National Park, Zimbabwe.
• National lion species management plan development, Ghana.
• Wildlife Protection Training, Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe.

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