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Kgalagadi Lion Research Project

14 November 2014

© Lisa Thompson-Smeddle
© Lisa Thompson-Smeddle
Thanks to a donation from the Turner Foundation, Peace Parks Foundation is supporting a Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park lion research project, implemented under the auspices of South African National Parks (SANParks) and the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and supported by a number of partners and sponsors.
© Craig Beech
© Craig Beech
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park spans the borders of Botswana and South Africa. At almost 36 000 km², it represents a large ecosystem relatively free of human interference - an increasingly rare phenomenon in Africa. It is an arid, semi-desert savanna and hosts multiple species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Kgalagadi primarily aims to protect migratory game movements thanks to the absence of internal boundary fences. One of the key management concerns is the preservation of large carnivore species. Kgalagadi's lion population is highly vulnerable to the effects of anthropogenic factors and environmental fluctuations. This is owing to their low population size, relative isolation and the arid and resource-poor environment in which they occur. Lions that leave the park often prey on neighbouring farmlands' livestock, resulting the lions being actively hunted and killed. There is an indication that at least one lion from each of the five prides that live adjacent to the park's boundary is killed per annum, placing additional strain on the population.
© Lisa Thompson-Smeddle
© Lisa Thompson-Smeddle
The African lion is listed as at a high risk of endangerment in the wild in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, given that the overall population has declined by 30 - 50% in the past 20 years.

In Kgalagadi, lions are an iconic species and key to tourism experiences and expectations. Lions are considered to be apex predators and are keystone ecological drivers in the ecosystems in which they occur. Kgalagadi's lion population is one of the most important in Africa. However, a reduction of approximately 30% has been noted over the past two decades, mainly due to indiscriminate killing in defense of life and livestock, coupled with prey-base depletion.

Following an outbreak of canine distemper in lions during 2009, SANParks conducted a lion population survey and noted disturbing changes in the sex ratios. Male bias is progressively increasing, which predicts a pending collapse of the population. Similar patterns were noted in a focal survey of four Botswana wildlife management areas abutting Kgalagadi. Large predators serve as flagship species, but at the same time pose a challenge when they prey on livestock and get killed.
Photo courtesy of SANParks
Photo courtesy of SANParks
A collaborative effort by Botswana and South Africa to collar female lions in order to follow their movements, which can lead to human-lion conflict, is therefore under way. Data obtained from the study will be used as the basis for a programme to reduce human-wildlife conflict in and around Kgalagadi. Research projects aim to define the lions' present diet patterns and whether these have changed over time; will focus on population sizes, age and sex structures; evaluate the local extinction risk; and identify potential mechanisms that may influence lion demographic signals by defining how lion demographic profiles associate with prey availability, body condition indices of adult females and interactions with humans.

Click here for more information in the project.

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