Two PhD researchers and ecologists have documented a large diversity of wildlife species in Limpopo National Park with the use of camera-traps. The 49 mammal species above 3.0 kg snapped include bat-eared fox, aardwolf, African wild dog, serval, giraffe, zebra, roan, eland and sable.
Leah Andresen and Kristoffer Everatt have been conducting scientific research on large predators in the park for the past eight years. “We were drawn to Great Limpopo because of its importance for the regional and global viability of large terrestrial predators including lion, cheetah and African wild dog and because there was a huge gap in knowledge on predator status and ecology for the Mozambican component."
Using several different research techniques including call-ups, camera-traps and spoor surveys, the researchers determined that there are approximately 66 lion and 35 cheetah in Limpopo National Park. This is particularity encouraging as where there are predators, there is prey. A 2010 fixed-wing census of Limpopo National Park estimated 1 400 elephant and 1 050 buffalo in the park, as well as healthy populations of sable, kudu and nyala. In Banhine National Park lion, cheetah, wild dog, leopard and spotted hyena were found by the researchers, in addition to elephant, buffalo, and healthy herds of impala and large flocks of ostrich.
Large predator population dynamics generally function at scales that span protected areas and political boundaries. This means that conservation efforts need to be integrated and cooperative. The project goal is thus to provide the necessary information to improve the transboundary conservation management of key predator species. “To achieve this aim we are conducting a landscape-level assessment to improve knowledge on large predator transboundary population dynamics, species distribution, connectivity, habitat availability and threats in Great Limpopo,” says Andresen. Some specific objectives include evaluating the feasibility of conservation corridors, quantifying source-sink dynamics, quantifying the extent of bushmeat poaching and evaluating locations for re-introductions and/or natural recolonisation potential in the Mozambican components.
For the project purposes, they are using a whole suite of sampling techniques including spoor surveys, camera-traps, sniffer dogs and GPS tracking of lions. They are also collecting genetic samples (scats) from lion, cheetah, wild dog, leopard and spotted hyena in each of the five national parks in the TFCA. They’ve employed the use of a professional sniffer dog and handler team from Conservation Canines to help them locate scats. From the scats they will extract DNA and are teaming up top geneticists from the Global Felid Conservation Genetics Program at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Genetic information will allow the researchers to determine whether these predators are a result of recent immigration or are pre-war relics. This information will feed into population viability analysis and will be used to provide informed recommendations on the conservation management and land-use requirements to ensure the growth and persistence of predator populations in the Mozambican component of the TFCA.
The research has identified and assessed potential corridors linking Limpopo and Banhine national parks. Along with the recent re-alignment of Banhine National Park borders, Limpopo National Park has already initiated the demarcation and protection of these corridors to develop national park interconnectivity in Great Limpopo.
Over the next year all the identified lion prides in Limpopo National Park and in Banhine National Park will hopefully be collared. The information gained will inform conflict mitigation strategies. The next step is to survey Zinave National Park and adjacent community lands that may serve as conservation corridors to Gonarezhou and Banhine national parks.
“We’d like to see this project develop into a long-term monitoring programme that would enable effective adaptive management at the landscape level," says Andresen.