The Big Cats
Lion and leopard are two of Africa’s most iconic and charismatic carnivores. As a function of their role at the top of the food chain, they are vital to proper ecosystem functioning and health. However, both of these species are facing global population decline through the effects of burgeoning human population growth, and the resultant persecution and habitat fragmentation.
Approximately half of all habitat available to African lions is currently found in commercial trophy-hunting areas; yet the vast majority of lion studies have been conducted inside core protected areas such as national parks – the need for a comprehensive lion study within trophy-hunting areas has generally been neglected.
Conservation research on these key ecological species was initiated on the Bubye Valley Conservancy in 2009, beginning with simple density estimates calculated by counting animal tracks on dirt roads. Since the project’s conception; the scope of the research has grown to include GPS collaring for population monitoring and interaction analyses, camera-trapping to determine population density, demographics and age structure, and activity loggers to help us better understand the behavioural ecology and eco-physiology of these species. The breadth of research has also increased to include habitat and herbivore surveys, which are fundamental to understanding the ecology of any species in a dynamic ecosystem.
The research has so far produced two doctoral projects through the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at the University of Oxford. The lion research project recently completed by Paul Trethowan has its roots in a previous study on lion-leopard conflict on the conservancy, which Byron du Preez conducted as part of his doctorate. Using leopards as a model species, Byron’s study investigated the impact of lions on the behavioural ecology of a competitively subordinate carnivore, and highlighted the conservation implications that could result from uncontrolled lion populations at densities higher than the local system can sustain.
As research questions continually present themselves, we are currently conducting a long-term research project that investigates lion behavioural ecology and the role of trophy hunting in lion conservation.
This is a short animation clip, from a subset of collared lions at BVC, showing some interpride interactions. These interactions are seldom witnessed but as you can see here actually occur quite frequently. All of these collars were donated to the lion research project by individuals and organisations with hearts for conservation. Without such generosity, none of our conservation research would be possible.
For more information about donations, and our donors, see the Support and Thanks page