The Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) and Montana State University (MSU) have implemented a standardized research and conservation program to examine ecological and anthropogenic factors limiting carnivore populations in Luangwa, Liuwa, and Kafue National Parks. Within this broader program, this project focuses on the two most threatened species in the large carnivore guild, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), in the Greater Kafue Ecosystem (GKE).
The African Wild Dog is one of Africa’s most endangered carnivores. The IUCN lists wild dogs as “endangered” and they are a conservation priority canid species. Continent-wide estimates of African wild dogs indicate <7,000 individuals remain in the wild, and few populations are large enough to ensure long-term persistence. The cheetah is currently red listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN. Southern Africa is currently a continental stronghold for cheetah with an estimated 4,500 adults. Both wild dog and cheetah are often limited by competition from other large carnivore species such as lion and hyena. African wild dogs and cheetah are heavily impacted by habitat loss due to the expansion of agriculture and charcoal production. Snares set to capture ungulates for the illegal bushmeat trade also reduce prey availability and frequently catch cheetah and wild dogs as ‘by-catch’. These anthropogenic pressures have led to the disappearance of both species from the vast majority of the range they once inhabited. Currently, both species occur in a patchwork of fragmented, relatively non-continuous populations throughout their range. Such fragmentation has isolated populations, which makes them more vulnerable to disease, constrains their movements, and restricts gene flow, which ultimately makes them more prone to extinction. A priority action for the conservation of these species is therefore to understand their habitat and prey requirements, the factors limiting their persistence and potential recovery, and to develop strategies that reestablish connectivity and secure viable populations.
This project aims to: (1) estimate population size and monitor trends through time, (2) evaluate their distribution in relation to available habitat, prey availability, snaring, and human encroachment, and (3) measure the limiting effect of interspecific competition, particularly with lions and spotted hyenas.
Several obstacles in exist in cheetah and wild dog monitoring programs that could be improved dramatically by attaching lightweight, flexible GPS devices from Mataki to existing VHF collars. First, the GKE has a very limited road network that primarily follows the two permanent rivers. The rugged terrain and miombo woodlands also make it difficult to locate wide-ranging individuals. These challenges increase the possibility that it will not obtain unbiased data to accurately describe habitat and corridor use. In addition, heavy rains from Nov-Apr prevent field work. As a result, there is limited ability to track VHF-collared animals for nearly six months of the year. Mataki GPS devices would ensure that a more comprehensive and unbiased dataset on the distribution and movements of cheetah, wild dogs and their competitors throughout the year can be accumulated.
With support from Mataki, all lions, wild dogs, cheetah, and spotted hyena within the focal study area are equipped with GPS units for 12 months. We will then have unparalleled insight into how each carnivore species responds to changing environmental conditions, anthropogenic pressures, prey availability, and other carnivores across the GKE. This information will substantially increase our ability to inform wild dog and cheetah management and conservation policy in Zambia.
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