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This is predator country

13 June 2016

Photo courtesy of African Wildlife Conservation Fund
Photo courtesy of African Wildlife Conservation Fund
Gonarezhou National Park is turning into prime predator country, with lion, cheetah and spotted hyena populations reported to be doing well, while the wild dogs are flourishing.
Through the Gonarezhou Predator Project (a joint project between Frankfurt Zoological Society, African Wildlife Conservation Fund and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority), the den sites of nine packs of wild dogs were located in the park last year, while three more packs were noted, though their dens were not located. For the most part the packs are large, with good litter sizes. At the end of 2015, some 105 adults and 75 pups in 12 different packs were confirmed, but it is now estimated that there are likely to be at least two more packs.

The dens were spaced throughout the park and the wild dogs seem to be utilising Gonarezhou to its full extent and doing well. This is despite an increasing lion population and may be the result of the two species increasing concurrently, allowing the wild dogs to modify their behaviour to avoid being negatively impacted by lions.

Unfortunately, the wild dogs are also facing threats from outside park borders. A number of them were noticed with snares; mostly on packs resident in the Mabalauta subsection, indicating a wire snare poaching problem in or around the south of the park. Though continuous efforts are made to remove the snares, this is not an easy task, as it is very difficult to get close enough to dart them. An African wild dog was also killed by a speeding vehicle on the Chikombedzi Road.
© Michael Viljoen
© Michael Viljoen
The Large Carnivore Spoor Survey was undertaken in September 2015. Data showed that the lion population continues to increase steadily, and there are now an estimated 125 lions in the park. Relative to other populations in Kruger, Hwange, Selous and Serengeti, the lion density in Gonarezhou is still very low. Prey biomass availability suggest that the park could support between 200 and 300 lion. The lion population could therefore at least double before reaching carrying capacity.
© Michael Viljoen
© Michael Viljoen
The 2015 population estimate for spotted hyena in the park was 642 individuals - a healthy population with no major cause for concern.

A potential cause for concern, unless it is a natural fluctuation, is the park’s leopard population. There has been a steady decline since its highest density in 2012 when there were an estimated 524 leopards in the park. This dropped to only 450 in 2013, 398 in 2014 and 388 in 2015.

Though spoor surveys are valuable indicators of a trend, numbers must be treated with caution. Results from the survey suggest a total population of 90 cheetah in the whole park, which represents a healthy population for a species that is naturally low density and wide-ranging.
Click here for more on the Gonarezhou conservation project.

Story by Piet Theron
International Coordinator
Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park
Click here for more news on Great Limpopo.

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