Research Update from the Zambezi National Park
November 4 2013

A variety of research programs are underway in the Zambezi National Park in conjunction with the Zimbabwe Parks & Wildlife Management Authority.  Here is an insight into some of the progress made this past month.

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Large Predator Assessment

Zimbabwe’s Zambezi National Park is home to five large predator species – lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and African wild dog (Lyacaon pictus), however no attempt has been made before to determine species population size and distribution in the Park. 

To date our research team and volunteers have surveyed 43% of the park’s 56,200ha. Using driven transects and a spoor and scat survey, the team have begun to build baseline data on predator populations.  Hyena are the dominant predator species whilst few signs of cheetah have been observed.  Both hyena and cheetah observations have been made in areas lacking signs of other large predators, whilst lion and leopard signs have been discovered together in several areas.  Whilst no evidence has been found of wild dogs on transects, they have been observed in areas close to the Park.

Once the whole park has been surveyed baseline data will be used to create species specific studies that are able to focus on those areas of known occupancy by the focal species.  The ultimate aim of the study is to assist in the creation of conservation management plans for each species within this locale to ensure their long-term viability.

Hyena

Predator deterrent lighting systems

In April and June of this year three predator deterrent lighting systems were installed in the Jambezi communal lands area of Zimbabwe and at the African Centre for Holistic Management (ACHM). The aim of installing these units was to monitor and determine their effectiveness against predator attacks on livestock kept in bomas overnight.

Such deterrents are currently being deployed across Kenya and Tanzania in areas of high predation, by lions in particular. Anecdotal reports have so far suggested the lights are maintaining a 100% success rate at keeping predators away from livestock.  However, the ecology, behavior and habitat of lions and other predators in East Africa differs significantly to that found in Southern Africa, and questions arose as to whether such lighting systems would be effective in conflict areas in Southern Africa, such as those in Zimbabwe.

The first trial unit was installed at Mr Costa Nyathi’s residence in the Jambezi area. By the time of installation in April Mr Nyathi had lost 6 head of cattle to lions in 2013 and shared his concerns of further losses during the upcoming dry season months when lion attacks often peak.  To date Mr Nyathi has reported no further losses or attempted attacks on his livestock at night since the lights were put up. Lions have been sighted in the area and livestock from other bomas have been killed suggesting they are actively avoiding Mr Nyathi’s boma.

A second lighting unit was put in place in April at the ACHM, which have also experienced many lion and leopard attacks.  The boma at the ACHM is part of a structured livestock husbandry initiative, whereby cattle are moved every four days to prevent over grazing. This has meant the lighting system has been used in a variety of habitats and so far no further attacks have been reported. Herders tending to cattle have directly observed lions approaching the boma fitted with the lights and reported the lions approach no closer than c. 100m before moving off.

A third lighting unit was installed in June, again in the Jambezi area.  Again, no further attacks have been reported on this boma.

We are currently seeking funding to extend these trials.

African Monarch Butterfly

African Monarch

Entomology survey

An integral part of any habitat and ecosystem is the health and diversity of micro-fauna and their relationship with dominant plant species. The entomological mechanisms of an area dictate the viability of all trophic layers within an ecosystem. Therefore it is vital the insects of an area be studied, assessed and monitored.

In the Zambezi National Park a team of ALERT and Lion Encounter researchers and volunteers have been sampling plots to measure species richness and diversity. In conjunction with Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority and the National University of Science and Technology, Zimbabwe, this study also hopes to provide baseline data for an entomological and flora guide of the area.

Plots determined and laid within the park are being studied during the different seasons due to the effect of climate on the symbiotic relationship between insects and plants.  A variety of species have been recorded so far including Flattened Giant Dung beetle, Red Driver ant and the Mopane bee.

The Zambezi National Park, along with many other areas, is currently battling with invasive plant species. The impact of such species can lead to catastrophic trophic cascades if conservation and removal management plans are not implemented. The current entomological study is providing important data to contribute to the management of invasive plant species in conjunction with ALERT and Lion Encounter’s efforts to physically remove invasive plants from the national park area. 

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