The Zambezi National Park is home to a diverse community of large mammals. Large predators, being at the apex of the survival chain, govern population trends not only of their prey species but amongst themselves. It is from the impact of interactions amongst these predators that determines the population regimes of both predator and prey species within the ecosystem. However, each predator opts to alter certain aspects of its life history in order to enhance chances of survival in this highly competitive environment.
The second quarter of the year was full of exciting observations from the surveys for tracks and signs within the Park. There has been a remarkable change in habitat usage amongst the large predators being monitored since the end of the hot-wet season. Of particular interest is the sudden increase in sightings of wild dog packs within the national park, including one on a sub-adult impala kill.
An analysis of the data collected during the period April to June indicates an interesting overlap in preference of habitat usage amongst the predators that were detected during the ongoing survey. Spoor encountered included that of African lion, spotted hyena, African wild dog and as well as the leopard.
Key: mw – mixed woodland; bmw – basalt mixed woodland; mopane – mopane woodland; og – open grassland
From the observations made, all predators seem to prefer denser and less visible environments, with the mixed woodland vegetation being most preferred. This preference for denser vegetation cover provides good camouflage for the hunters and also reduces chances of detection by prey species, however it does increase chances of predator intraguild encounters, thereby increasing competition for hunting grounds and ultimately interspecific killings.
About the 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.