Last year, several students from Antwerp University did research on Lions in Meru NP, Kenya and Tigers in Chitwan NP, India. Those researched were supported by Leo Foundation, and hereby we would like to share the results by the below abstracts.
Stefanie Kelchtermans – Diet study of the tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, with specific focus on the buffer zone and the surrounding areas, in relation with human-wildlife conflicts.
Habitat destruction, prey depletion and human-carnivore conflicts are all important factors contributing to the decline of large carnivores. This study intents to analyze the diet of the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, by identifying 47 prey items from 43 tiger scats. The diet of the tiger was compared between three zones under different management including core area (CA), buffer zone (BZ) and corridor forest (CO). The majority of scats were found in the CA (73.07%). Tigers in CNP fed upon eight different mammal species. Chital (Axis axis) was the major prey with a frequency of 57.45% of the tigers’ diet, followed by wild boar (17.02%) (Sus scrofa). No livestock was consumed by tigers in CNP during this study. A diet comparison of tiger and leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), revealed that the diet of leopards consisted of a larger portion of livestock (10%) compared to tigers (0%). This study also focused on the impact of human-tiger conflicts during the last five years in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. The questionnaire-survey indicated that the western section of the buffer zone experienced more livestock depredation, of which tigers are mainly responsible for losses. The majority of attacks occurred during the night (100%), mainly during winter (63.64%). The likelihood of depredation on livestock decreased with increasing distance from the park boundary and, light/fire significantly influenced tiger depredation. The use of protection measures (shepard dog, noise, protection enclosure) appeared not to be significantly influencing the number of attacks. Notable it that regardless of the educational level of local respondents, 93.33% have a positive perception towards large carnivore conservation. To conclude, conflict mitigating measures should prioritize the corridor forest and buffer zone over core area to reduce the economic loss, inflicted by livestock depredation. The conservation actions on the long term can only be effective if enforcement of regulations is combined with education and the active involvement of local communities.
Gert-Jan Goeminne – Movements and home ranges of translocated and resident lions (Panthera leo melanochaita) in relation to the translocation potential in Meru National Park, Kenya.
The number of human-wildlife conflicts has steadily increased in recent years, due to habitat loss and growing human populations. Translocation of problem animals has often been suggested as a possible solution, because of its non-lethal character and relative cost-efficiency. The location of release and pre-release handling (soft vs. hard release) are considered to be the most important factors for translocations to be successful. In this thesis, differences in behaviour between resident lions and translocated lions were examined for Meru National Park (MNP) in Kenya, a park regularly used by Kenyan Wildlife Services (KWS) as a translocation site for problem lions. Additionally, an ecological translocation suitability analysis for lion translocations was performed. Both the movements and home ranges of resident and translocated lions were compared, based on the data of five satellite collared lions. For the home ranges both the home range size and the time of establishment were compared. The ecological suitability analysis was performed using different ecological variables to quantify the ecological suitability of different areas in the park. The weight of each variable was adapted from literature and later optimized with Bayesian statistics. Home ranges and movements differed strongly between resident and translocated lions with the exception of one translocated male, which showed similar behaviour to resident lions.This male was observed to have joined a local resident pride. The two other problem lions showed large movements outside the park and both died within a few months. The developed method for the optimization of the ecological suitability analysis seemed to be useful and could be a possible tool to determine the translocation potential of a park. However, to give more reliable results, a more extensive data set would be needed, in order to improve the outcome of the method for the future.
Kennedy Kakiri – Ecology and conservation of the African Lion (Panthera leo) in and around Meru National Park, Kenya
My research project covered a study on lion population size, pride structure, reproductive success, foraging success, distribution and factors influencing human-lion interactions in the MNP. Data on lion presence were collected during transect counts and through direct opportunistic searches and observations, while data on human-lion interactions were collected through a questionnaire survey that was administered in nine villages (sub-locations) around the park. Results show a lion density of 6.8 lions/km2 and an estimated lion population size of 31 individuals. I identified four lion prides in the park. The pride structure seems to be influenced by prey availability and seasonal fluctuations of water and prey in and around the MNP. Attitudes towards carnivores are predominantly influenced by livestock ownership and level of education. Livestock husbandry practices, particularly the height of the boma fence and the type of livestock enclosure (boma) also influence livestock loss and mortality.
The questionnaire survey showed that human-lion conflicts mainly occur near the north-eastern boundary of the MCA, which is unfenced. The frequency of reported lion conflict incidences in the area peaks around August which is also the driest month of the year in the MCA and the month with the least number of lion observation sightings inside the park. Livestock raiding behaviour therefore seems to be mainly influenced by lion distribution in and around the park, the presence of livestock and livestock husbandry practices such as the type and height of the boma fence as well as the influence of seasonality. Other livestock husbandry practices (such as the use of flashlights, adult herders/guards and guard dogs) also reduce livestock depredation, although habituation to flashlights reduces the effectiveness of the flashlights and the Muslim pastoralists in the area (who also own the majority of livestock lost to carnivores) do not use guard dogs due to religious beliefs.
Mateo Bal – Lion (Panthera leo melanochaita) diet in relation to prey preference and density in Meru National Park, Kenya
The African lion (Panthera leo) plays a key role in savannah ecosystems by directly and indirectly regulating trophic structure. Their foraging behavior has frequently been described as opportunistic, but often reveals a distinct preference for certain prey species that are energetically more profitable. This research project focussed on the population structure and diet of lions in Kenya’s Meru National Park. Data were collected from February until April 2019 and contribute to the PhD research of MSc Luka Narisha. A total of 28 lions were identified during fieldwork, indicating a lion density of 2.2 adult lions per 100 km2. Transect counts of potential prey species in the park revealed that Kirk’s dik-dik (Madoqua kirkii) had the highest relative abundance of all prey species (50.89%), while African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) contributed the most to the total prey biomass (33.94%). Based on carcass counts and microscopic prey hair analysis from lion scats, African buffalo and plains zebra were found to be the principal prey species of the lions in Meru National Park. Few hairs of livestock were found in the lion scats, which indicates a low level of livestock raiding. Prey preference analysis using Jacobs’ Index showed that lions had a high prey preference for African buffalo and plains zebra, but Grevy’s zebra appeared to be the most preferred prey species. Lions did not seem to have a significant preference or avoidance for selected prey body mass ranges. Overall, results from this study indicate that Meru National Park hosts a healthy lion population in a relatively undisturbed ecosystem, but further research is needed to eliminate remaining uncertainties and monitor the prey and lion populations in view of climate change.
Amy montagne – Investigating the decline of the African lion population in Lake Nakuru National Park using diet analysis
During the last decades the global African lion (Panthera leo, L. 1758) population has decreased rapidly. In Lake Nakuru National Park (LNNP) in Kenya this decline has also been observed. One of the possible reasons of this decline is the increasing African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) population in LNNP. Large herds can cause danger for lions in hunting attempts and result in deaths. The pressure of the African buffaloes can result in prey switching towards smaller prey species and species such as reptiles, birds and very small mammals (<5kg). Hence, by investigating the foraging behaviour and predator-prey interactions of the lions in LNNP it can be possible to get insight into factors that are causing the decrease of these lions. This study assessed the foraging behaviour in LNNP, with the use of three different methods of diet analysis: carcass counts, hair morphology analysis and DNA analysis. This study especially focusses on the effect of the large population of the African buffalo in LNNP. Does the diet of the African lion in LNNP indeed reflect an avoidance of the African buffalo compared to the lions in the nearby wildlife conservancy (Soysambu Conservancy, SC)? Furthermore, this study investigates whether this possible pressure results in prey switching. This study showed that the current lion population in LNNP is still in decline (with a decrease from approximately 20 to 9 lions in two years) and that the African buffalo is one of the drivers for this decline. This study confirmed that there is a high avoidance for African buffalo by lions in LNNP, while this is not observed with the lions from SC. The general diet in LNNP and SC were very different. Lions in LNNP consumed a larger amount of species under 100kg, as the preferred weight is around 350kg, this can indicate a possible prey switch towards smaller prey. DNA analysis showed that slightly more non-mammalian prey species and very small mammals were eaten in LNNP than in SC, of which most were positive for reptiles. These results imply that park management should reduce the number of African buffaloes in LNNP to counter the decline of lions in LNNP.