Northern Tuli Predator Project

Learn more about the project to study lions and leopards, helping to conserve these beautiful big cats

Northern Tuli Predator Project

 

Principal Researcher: Mr Andrei Snyman

 

Overview:

 

The Northern Tuli Predator Project was started in 2007 and focuses mainly on the study of lions and leopards. Additional large carnivore species have also since been selected for further studies, as part of the greater carnivore assemblage in the reserve. These include spotted hyenas and cheetah.

 

Background to lion study

 

Populations of large carnivores are becoming increasingly threatened throughout Africa, especially when not afforded protection by large conservation areas. Humans frequently limit carnivore numbers living outside protected areas and legal and illegal hunting, road accidents, and snaring cause most deaths that occur outside of reserve borders. Furthermore, humans also form the preponderance of mortality amongst large carnivores, especially wide ranging species such as wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) and cheetah (Acinonyx jabatus). Lions (Panthera leo) are also exposed to population disturbances inside protected areas due to harvesting. Lions are highly social animals that live in fission–fusion groups, and are thus susceptible to population disturbances from humans. Infanticide also plays an important role in the level of disturbances within a lion population.

 

Here we investigate the spatial-and temporal movements of lions from the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (Notugre), Botswana. Lions moved across international boundaries and through local farmland regardless of fences and land use type, but spent most of their time inside their home ranges located within protected areas. When lions moved out of these protected areas the probability of them being killed was high. In at least two instances this included males responding to the placement of baits set to lure lions out. Edge effects had a severe impact on the Notugre lion population, with 82% of adult mortality found outside the borders of the reserve. There were various reasons why males left their normal home ranges and went on excursions that took them outside protected areas, one of the reasons being females. Each radio-collared lion had a unique set of characteristics that characterized the size and location of their home ranges, resulting in wide variability in size and shape. The presence of human activities, in the form of cattle-posts, agricultural lands and villages also appeared to influence home range selection with lions tending to avoid these areas. With increasing human populations and the destruction of natural habitat, human-wildlife conflict will continue and requires urgent attention in order to mitigate the issue.

 

The aims of the project

  • Determine lion numbers and population structures of the Northern Tuli Game Reserve
  • Compare current population status with that of historical records
  • Determine lion movements - especially male lions via GPS-radio collars
  • Identify factors influencing the lion population

 

Background to leopard study

 

The leopard component of the project has been running since 2005.

Leopards are notoriously difficult to study due to their secretive nature, the habitats they frequent, and their low densities. Although leopards have been studied across a wide range of habitats, there is still a need for further study particularly with respect to management and human conflict. In the Northern Tuli Game Reserve we have initiated a long-term leopard project. Aspects investigated include behavioral ecology, population dynamics, movement patterns, population density estimation, habitat preference, prey selection and human conflict. Thus far 29 leopards have been monitored by means of VHF and GPS radio collars. Over 40 successful captures have been made with leopards having been either cage trapped or free darted.

 

The aims of the project

  • Social organization of male leopards
  • Habitat selection and preference
  • Prey selection and preference in combination with landscape features and topograpgy
  • Risk assessment from leopards to neighboring hostile areas
  • Leopard population structure and dynamics

 

Also to:

  • Improve current knowledge on camera trapping methods and models for population calculation
  • Improve / devise new methods and materials for leopard capture & monitoring
  • Attract international attention to the state and fate of leopards

 

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