The Zambezi National Park in Zimbabwe is home to a diverse community of large mammals. ALERT’s large predator occupancy survey was introduced to monitor patterns of habitat usage for each species found in the Park.
Large carnivores limit population sizes of herbivores through predation, and mesocarnivores (an animal whose diet consists of 50 to 70% meat) through intraguild competition; the killing and eating of potential competitors. Mammalian carnivores, especially the African lion, occupy large home ranges and often disperse long distances. Because of this, they are particularly susceptible - both directly and indirectly - to the structure and dynamics of their habitat.
In March, three surveys were carried out in different areas of the Park. Only two predator species were encountered during these surveys; lions and spotted hyena. Of the two, hyenas were seen twice as often as lions, although there were incidental sightings of a pride of seven lions at a borehole (one of which was seen to be collared), a female with three cubs at another borehole, and a different female spotted in Acacia vegetation.
Lion spor Hyena spor
Knowledge of the population size of different species is a vital tool in the management of wildlife in protected areas, helping ecologists confirm if numbers can be sustained by available resources (food, water and habitat). Being aware of mortality rates means that trends can be established and causes of losses investigated. As many wildlife management areas rely on revenue generated through tourism to sustain themselves, identifying species variety and numbers can determine their viability.
For both ecological and economic purposes, ALERT carries out road transects counts in the Zambezi National Park to monitor population trends and assist with effective management of this protected area. Last month, our research team covered a distance of 48 kilometres. Using trained observers to assist, the group size and ratio of any animals encountered was recorded, along with habitat type and what the animals were doing when they were spotted. From this data, population density for each species can be determined.
The pie chart above shows that impala has the highest density in the area surveyed, compared to other species, and waterbuck has the least
About the Zambezi National Park large predator occupancy survey
Zimbabwe's 56,200 hectare Zambezi National Park (ZNP) is contiguous with the Kazuma Pan-Matetsi-Hwange complex, forming a total contiguous conservation area of over 1,846,700ha excluding forest reserves. The National Park is home to five species of large predator including; spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), leopard (Panthera pardus), lion (Panthera leo) and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus).
No previous study has been conducted on predator species within the Park, but the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority (ZPWMA) estimate numbers to be low despite fairly high concentrations of antelope found in the basalt woodlands below the sand ridge, and stretching all the way to the Zambezi River. This habitat should, under normal circumstances, be good hunting ground for predators and support a healthy population of each species.
This study aims to establish baseline data for each of the five large predator species within the ZNP to aid in the devlopment of more detailed species specific studies. The end goal of the study is to assist in the creation of sound conservation management plans to ensure the long term viability for all large predator species within the Zambezi National Park.