Research Papers

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The long-term viability of current lion conservation strategies: A role for ex situ reintroduction

As the global human population increases, pressure on wildlife and habitat intensifies. Surveys chart the rapid decline in free-ranging African lions (Panthera leo). Available habitat shrinks, forcing lions into smaller and more fragmented populations. In situ attempts to protect and restore habitat and lions are rightly the mainstay of conservation effort for this species. However, they are relatively new and dependent on donor funding. It remains an empirical question as to whether current in situ conservation efforts will provide sufficient success on a continent-wide scale to maintain genetically diverse and viable lion populations before the species becomes critically threatened with extinction. In areas where populations are dramatically reduced or extirpated, wild-to-wild translocations have been adopted to reintroduce the species or support dwindling numbers. Comparisons of wild-to-wild versus ex situ reintroduction strategies for a range of species have led to a prioritising of wild-sources for the African lion on the basis of apparent superior success rate of such methods and apprehension over the effects of captivity on animals for wild-release. This paper outlines some concerns with such evaluations, questions claims of ‘unequivocal success’ for wild-to-wild translocations, and argues the African lion now fulfils IUCN technical requirements for ex situ reintroduction.

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Zambia's Conservation Strategy and Action Plan for the African Lion

This conservation strategy and action plan for the African lion in Zambia will assist the country in ensuring that the long-term survival of the species is guaranteed based on stakeholder partnerships and harmonization of the needs of lion conservation and various facets of socio-economic development (including tourism). It is hoped that ZAWA will in the foreseeable future provide holistic population estimates and maintain viable populations in all the key lion range areas.

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Partitioning of space, habitat, and timing of activity by large felids in an enclosed South African system

Reintroductions of large carnivores into enclosed reserves that confine movements may fail due to intensive intra-guild interspecific conflict. To assess conflict potential, in winter 2006 we used direct observations aided by radio-tracking to focally monitor continuously one female cheetah with cub (Acinonyx jubatus), a female leopard (Panthera pardus), and a lion pride (Panthera leo) at Shamwari Private Game Reserve, South Africa. Home ranges of all individuals/social groups overlapped, whereas core areas had little overlap. The cheetah core area had no overlap with the lion core area, with lion avoidance also recorded for a radio-tracked single female cheetah and a male leopard. The female cheetah with cub selected thicket habitat which was avoided by lions, the latter preferring naturally revegetated areas that were also selected by the female leopard. Lions also selected low elevations, which were avoided by the smaller felids. Habitat preference differences occurred at study area and home range levels, suggesting a broad-scale feline avoidance strategy to minimize intra-guild conflict. In addition, the focally monitored cheetah and leopard were often stationary when the lions were active, especially during nocturnal lion hunts. These intra-guild mechanisms of reintroduced carnivore coexistence should be tested with longer-term studies across enclosed systems of different sizes, and hosting varying carnivore guilds.

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