As part of biodiversity monitoring programmes operating in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park, ALERT has been carrying out a survey of large mammalian predators in the Zambezi National Park. This survey focuses on signs of habitat occupancy, including direct sightings, as well as various tracks and signs. The main species of interest are spotted hyena, African wild dog, lion, cheetah and leopard; these species have a significant impact on the dynamics of herbivore populations in the Park. To date, the survey has highlighted very high habitat occupancy by hyena across all habitat types being monitored. The distribution of this species does not seem to be influenced by the distribution of prey species across the Park.
Customarily, this survey has been carried out on foot along management roads within the Park, providing valuable insight on the differences in habitat usage by these large predators. However, substrates in some areas pose a huge challenge. In rocky areas, for example, tracks of passing predators are not recorded on the hard surfaces. Also, tourist vehicles operating throughout the Park can cover tracks with those of their tyres. Things are even harder during the wet season as some areas become inaccessible, whilst tracks can be destroyed by rain drops and runoff. Therefore, to counter these challenges in data collection, the team have now installed camera traps in selected areas.
The use of camera traps has so far allowed us to identify nocturnal predators as well as prey species, whose distribution may also be influencing the distribution and habitat use by the selected predators. So far the cameras have caught spotted hyenas on four of the five cameras set, and two male lions on one of the cameras set just a few kilometres from the Park entrance gate.
Other prey species identified include zebra, elephant and porcupines, whilst on one came an African wild cat was also seen.
About the Large Predator Occupancy Survey
Zimbabwe's 56,200 hectare 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. The National Park is home to five species of large predator including; spotted hyena, cheetah, leopard, lion and African wild dog.
No previous study has been conducted on predator species within the Park, but the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority 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 Park to aid more detailed species specific studies. The end goal 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.
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