Could GPS collars help avert Zim lion cull?

2016-03-04 09:02
Cecil the lion in Hwange National Park.(Bryan Orford, YouTube)

Cecil the lion in Hwange National Park.(Bryan Orford, YouTube)

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Harare - They're expensive, not always easy to fit and they have a lifespan of just one year, but GPS collars might just help stave off a lion cull in Zimbabwe.

Bubye Valley Conservancy in the country's arid south has been in the news recently following media reports that it was considering carrying out a cull of up to 200 lions on its over-populated piece of land.

Dr Byron du Preez, who runs the Bubye Valley Conservation Research Initiative, says that the reports were premature and that any kind of lion cull was "not yet necessary".

The conservancy this week appealed to wildlife lovers to consider sponsoring GPS (Global Positioning System) collars for some of the lions.

Cecil the Lion first brought the use of GPS collars on lions in Zimbabwe to global attention. His collar was removed by hunters after he was controversially killed in July last year - it's not illegal for a licensed hunter to kill a collared lion in the country.

There are over 500 lions on the 3 000-square-kilometre Bubye Valley Conservancy, which is on the other side of Zimbabwe to Hwange National Park where Cecil lived.

As the population of lions increases at Bubye, they have been causing a decline in numbers not just of traditional prey like zebra and wildebeest, but also of competing predators like wild dogs and cheetahs.

Decisions

Du Preez told News24 that the data captured by GPS collars "helps to give wildlife managers a better idea of what decisions need to be made".

"The research might uncover new facts that had before eluded even consideration. Maybe, in time the data will show that the lions are in fact starting to control their own numbers, because lions kill lions.

"Maybe without the lions there would subsequently be an even larger problem of overgrazing and habitat destruction that may not recover in our lifetime," he said.

Collars aren't the only method used by researchers to collect ecological data about lions. Du Preez says he also uses camera traps ("if you have enough, they let you monitor the whole population"), and spends a fair amount of time monitoring lion scats.

What he's seeing at the moment from the data he's got is that Bubye's lion population - so threatened in other non-fenced areas of Africa - is still "rapidly expanding".

But that may not be the whole picture, which is why more collars are so desperately needed.

"I think that the collars, camera-traps, scats, and drones one day could help to stave off a cull if it shows that the best course of action for holistic conservation is to let lions keep the other animals in check," he said.

Read more on:    zimbabwe  |  southern africa  |  conservation  |  animals

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