A solar-powered 'Meerkat' is protecting South Africa's rhinos
17 February 2020
Visitors come from far and wide to see the magnificent lion of the Kgalagadi, the apex predator of the transfrontier park. Following an outbreak of canine distemper in 2009, a population survey detected an alarming gender bias towards males in all age classes. This predicted a pending lion population collapse. Researchers suggested several explanations, one of which was associated with the body condition of females during pregnancy. Females with improving body conditions during pregnancy tend to produce more male cubs.
Consequently a detailed two-year demographic and dietary study of the lion population was initiated. Thanks to a donation from the Turner Foundation, Peace Parks Foundation supported the research. Two MTech research students, Maya and Otto Beukes from the Department of Conservation and Marine Sciences, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, conducted 26 months’ of fieldwork to gain insight into the lion population dynamics and diet. Both the research projects have been highly praised, with Maya winning first prize for her presentation on the spatial and temporal variation of the lion diet at a Southern African Wildlife Management Association conference, while Otto was runner-up on his presentation on the demographic characteristics of the lion.
From the 1 162 lions encountered between May 2013 and June 2015, 268 unique individuals could be identified, using whisker spot patterns. This database of individuals is used to determine lion age and sex structure, population size and population growth rates in the Kgalagadi.
Dietary information was obtained from 278 kill sites, identified using satellite collar data from seven different lionesses, as well as 201 faecal samples collected from across the park. The primary contribution to lion diet is gemsbok. The results from these studies will be published in 2016. Preliminary results show a high proportion of males in the population, but no major signs of population decline, which bodes well for the future of lion in the Kgalagadi.