RESEARCH GRANTS AWARDED

Providing support to conservation and research efforts that align with ALERT's mission.


ALERT, from time to time, is able to awards grants, provide research equipment and/or offer support by other means, to advance the conservation and research efforts of third parties, where such efforts align with ALERT's mission.  Some of the recipients of ALERT's support are listed below.  This project is in addition to ALERT's Facilitated Research Programme.


Monitoring large carnivore populations in Namibia

ALERT is proud to have supported the work of the Large Carnivore Research Project that studies the effects of competition for resources and human-wildlife conflict on the densities and distribution of lions exposed to an anthrax-centred food web in northern Namibia. 

Carnivores play an important ecological role in ecosystems and contribute to ecosystem processes and species diversity.  In the face of decreasing viable habitat areas with low predator densities often lead to ecosystem degradation and loss of biodiversity.  As competition within multi-species community networks serves as the driver for biodiversity, predation serves to mitigate such competition between similar species so that more species are able to utilize certain habitats.  For this purpose, large carnivores present as biological indicators of species richness.  Understanding interactions among predators as individuals, social groups, and species (including humans) in these low density areas is of paramount importance for the management and conservation of both species and ecosystem function. 

Northern Namibia serves as a stronghold for one of the few remaining wild areas where populations of lions exist.  Lions occur at low densities and lions and spotted hyenas face heavy persecution along park borders which lie adjacent to farmland and human settlements.  Livestock depredation threatens the livelihood of local communities and is often cited as the most common cause of human-wildlife conflict.  Retaliatory killing of carnivores in response to perceived livestock depredation is common, and undermines conservation efforts.  Additionally, there are periodic and cyclic anthrax outbreaks in northern  Namibia which results in an annual surplus of infected carcasses on which predators feed.  The long-term effects on predators consuming such resources are unknown.  This project is the first of its kind to examine the effects of anthrax on lion ecology.  

The combined effects of competition for resources, human-induced mortalities, and heightened, long-term exposure to wildlife diseases may have enormous ramifications on the long-term sustainability of such multi-species predator communities.  This project will attempt to assess the viability of lion populations in northern Namibia, and to evaluate the extent of human-wildlife conflict from an interdisciplinary perspective, with a focus on livetsock depredation, and to explore sustainable risk-mitigation strategies.  

This research will provide current density estimates and distributions of the lion populations with demographical records providing the groundwork for the continued and on-going monitoring of such populations.  Knowledge of relative importance of the effects of interspecific competition, anthropogenic processes in the form of human-induced mortalities, and long-term repeated exposure to wildlife diseases is needed to guide management policies that can ensure the continued survival and viability of lion populations in northern Namibia.

This program, supported by NSERC (Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council of Canada), University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and the University of California at Berkeley, USA is led by Nancy Barker.  Ms. Barker was the principal researcher for a 2-year project on the endangered brown hyena in a protected area in South Africa, and, as an undergraduate she designed and participated in several research projects.  These included an analysis on the diving behaviour of baleen whales in the Bay of Fundy; resource competition in neo-tropical bats in the Panamanian tropical forests; group dynamics of ungulates in a game reserve in east Africa; microhabitat partitioning of coral reef fish communities in the Caribbean; population demographics on the mating behaviour of captive Japanese Macaques; tree vegetative surveys in a 100m2 plot of the Amazon tropical forests; and the sensory ecology of captive Arctic wolves in Canada.

Click here for information about lions within Namibia.


Assessing the disease status of lions within Gonarezhou National Park, Zimbabwe

As part of the proposed Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area the disease status of animals within this Park needed to be known for proper management of the TFCA. Since the discovery of bovine tuberculosis in buffalo within the Park, it was decided that testing the lions here was a priority to try and figure out how long the disease has been present; a “clean” lion population would indicate the disease is a relatively new occurrence.

Recent estimates show that there may be as few as 23 lion in the Park in an area of 5000km2. Other diseases being tested for included FIVple to add to the knowledge of why there is such a low density of lions here. Finance was provided to AWARE to conduct this program.

Click here for information about lions within Zimbabwe.


Assessing wildlife populations in the Kasungu National Park, Malawi

Kasungu National Park is approximately 2,316km2 in size; situated on Malawi's western border with Zambia. Kasungu became a National Park in 1970 and was seen as the best game park in Malawi. It once supported the largest elephant population in Malawi of over 2,000 but it is now estimated as 150 head. The park has seen a rapid deterioration in its animal numbers of all species. Other large animals still seen are; eland, buffalo, zebra, kudu, roan, sable, puku, hartebeest and even leopard, lion and the elusive African wild dog.

The deterioration has been part due to cross-border poaching as well as local poaching. Tree cutting ranks the highest among illegal activities recorded and animal poaching is rife. Fire is set by poachers during the dry season to better spot and hunt animals. Chinaka (edible orchid) and fire wood collection, water poisoning and illegal fishing are recorded. Encroachment is widespread along the western Zambian and eastern Malawian borders. The western Zambian border is rarely patrolled due to lack of resources. However the majority of illegal activities are registered along the eastern side of the park where tree cutting and snaring are at their highest despite a designated 5km buffer zone on its eastern border and 52 km of electric fence.   Communities are allowed to collect certain natural resources such as matondo (caterpillars of the speckled emperor moth), grass, mushrooms and honey, among others. Promoted by village head men and politicians, cultivation and tree cutting mainly occur inside the buffer zone. Moreover, the tobacco industry encourages people to cut down trees and clear land to be used for eucalyptus plantations to obtain firewood for the tobacco drying process. Although encroachment has existed for more than 15 years in the park the problem has not yet been resolved, on the contrary it is getting worse.

ALERT provided research equipment to Carnivore Conservation Malawi that was seeking to assess wildlife populations with particular reference to the maintenance of large predators such as lion, hyena, leopard and wild dog, all of which are still present, in low numbers, in Kasungu NP.

Click here for information about lions within Malawi.


Predation risk; a possible factor in equitable nutrient recycling, Zambia

ALERT is pleased to have financially supported the work of Wigganson Matandiko who is investigating whether there is a significant difference in the concentration of fecal E.coli colony cultures in areas of high predation risk verses low predation risk area.  This study is supervised by Professor Scott Creel of Montana University.

Fecal E.coli is an important commensal of the gastro-intestinal tract of animals and its presence is being applied as a proxy, not only of contamination of the environment with fecal matter of animal origin, but also as an indicator of nutrient recycling. In public health fecal coliforms are used to assess food and water sanitation, however, in this study their presence is being used to inform of possible nutrients of animal origin that are recycled through fecal droppings back to the environment as the animals utilize the landscape. In a bid to escape predation, susceptible animals end up dispersing nutrients to environments that are sub-optimal for foraging and would otherwise not be enriched under normal circumstances. In this sense predation risk becomes a very important tool for equitable environmental nutrient enrichment, without which some patches may remain poor indefinitely.

Predation and predation risk are both important players in shaping ecological communities. Of the two, predation resulting in direct killing of prey is seen as most important in nutrient and energy cycling. However, the non-lethal effect of the mere presence of predation risk is increasingly becoming recognized as a player in populations and communities of ecological systems. For instance, areas often not experiencing presence of predators are prone to overgrazing if the area is a “sweet spot” for animals. Such an area will tend to have large aggregations of varied species leading to high contact rates and that inevitably leads to easy transmission of disease pathogens seeded in the environment and from direct contact. On the other hand, if presence of predators is observed by the prey species the area will be visited cautiously and this in return helps recovery of plant communities being grazed / browsed and allows for ecosystem health to be restored. This aspect of the benefits of predation risk is not commonly researched because of the challenge it entails – how to measure and quantify benefits and costs of non-lethal effects of predation risk. In the study Wigganson is bringing methods of scaling benefits of predation risk and why apex predators such as lions need to be conserved for ecosystem health and services to be sustained.  The absence of large carnivores in some ecosystems of Zambia have seen a skewed population growth of some prey species that pose a health hazard in terms of disease outbreak risk and a negative impact on plant communities due to overgrazing and the resulting soil erosion.  

Of the large carnivores in protected areas of Zambia, the cheetah, hyena, leopard, lion, and wild dog, may be considered to play the crucial role of limiting prey abundance by killing them. In mitigating the risk of predation animal prey has evolved anti-predator behavior to lessen the chances of being killed.  Some of these anti-predator behaviors include escape to refuges with low predation risk, thereby diminishing the prey base in time and space for the predator. Others change the aggregation patterns while some unite to ward off predators.  In terrestrial mammals the cost of anti-predator behavior may take on the form of nutritional stress due to time spent in hiding and/ or increased vigilance. If they seek refuge in less nutritious patches the environment gets the benefit of nutrients being recycled from fecal droppings and urine. In this study Wigganson is seeking to investigate the distribution of prey in delineated predator home ranges established by lions and wild dogs collared with GPS / VHF radio transmitters, and beyond. Other factors in consideration include distance to water sources, vegetation type coupled with chlorophyll determination from sample plots, fire burn status of the range, animal density, predation risk, soil nutrient profile, and anthropogenic activities (both legal and illegal) found within the park.

The objectives of this study are;

-  Identifying variables associated with predation risk from correlation matrices.

-  Through ungulate behavioural observation and laboratory investigation trace variation in nutrients both in soil and vegetation at different temporal and spatial home ranges of ungulates partitioned between high, medium and low predation risk.

-  Develop model predicting high, medium and low predation risk among the study plots using statistical tools of cluster and canonical correspondence analysis.

-  Build baseline soil and vegetation nutritional data for the study area

-  Determine areas of lion and wild dog home range overlap, if any, and characterize such as high risk areas for ungulates.

-  Determine species of prey available / preferred by lions and wild dogs under study (through recorded kill counts)

-  Test the hypothesis of high soil and vegetation nutrients in high predation risk area for ungulates and low soil and vegetation nutrients as a low predation risk area.

-  Test hypothesis of low to zero fecal E.coli counts as a sign of either high predation risk area or low nutrition status in both soil and vegetation.
 


Study of sable antelope as a comparison of habitat use between hunting zones and national parks

A debate among large mammal scientists has been going on about 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.  

This is a specific study of sable (Hippotragus niger) antelope and is a comparison of habitat use between hunting zones and national parks.  Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park is contiguous with the Kazuma Pan – Matetsi - Hwange complex, forming a total contiguous 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 study has been conducted by the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority and the University of Zimbabwe.  ALERT has contributed with providing assistance in data collection and cash funding.

The major hypothesis is that hunted sable will select safer habitats and these safer habitats do not represent optimal habitat for the species.  Hunting utilisation levels of sable have been recorded to be one hundred percent of quota in all years, and therefore represents a species with high hunting pressure, hence its selection among many other large herbivores for this study.

In 2012 a journal article was published with the results of this study:

Abstract

In this study, we tested whether terrain-based visibility modelled from a remotely sensed ASTER Digital Elevation Model (DEM) explains sable flight initiation distance (FID) better than vegetation-based visibility measured in the field. We also tested whether the effect of hunting on sable FID varies with spatial scale. We first performed a linear regression analysis relating FID to standardized coefficients of both vegetation- and terrain-based visibility where the variable with the larger coefficient was the better predictor of FID. We latter performed an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) comparing the slopes relating FID to both measures of visibility, first at the large scale and later at the small scale within the hunting area. Our results suggest that remotely sensed terrain-based visibility predicts the FID of sable better than vegetation-based visibility. We also found that the effect of hunting on sable FID varies with spatial scale.

Ndaimani H, Murwira A, Kativu S (2012) Comparing terrain and vegetation-based visibility for explaining sable flight behaviour in a Southern African savanna.  Geocarto International, 2012: 1–14, iFirst article.  ISSN 1010-6049 print/ISSN 1752-0762 online.

 

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