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Lion Pride Dynamics in Kafue National Park

Lion on the Busanga Plains - Lion Research in Kafue National Park |  Best Luxury African Safaris | Classic Africa

Publications Resulting From the Study

Africa is home to numerous iconic species of wildlife, but perhaps no other animal captures the majesty and indomitable spirit of the African wilderness quite like Panthera leo (the African lion). It may be hard for anyone who has been on safari to imagine the African savanna without these majestic predators, or an African night without the distant sound of roaring, but this is the sad reality across most of the lion's traditional home range, and even the core lion populations of southern and East Africa are increasingly under threat.

Recent surveys indicate that lions have suffered 30-50% population reduction just over the past 20 years, prompting the IUCN to classify lions as a Threatened Species. There are currently an estimated 23,000-28,000 lions across the entire continent - when compared with roughly 500,000 elephants (a species that enjoys a very high profile conservations status), the lion's plight is placed in perspective.

Lions are highly conspicuous predators that pose serious personal and economic threats to the communities that live in and adjacent to lion habitat. One of the major challenges to lion conservation is that relatively little is currently understood about the reasons behind the dramatic population decline; a general dearth of knowledge exists regarding lion dynamics and most African countries don't have comprehensive management plans for lion conservation.

With this in mind, Classic Africa was pleased to be offered the opportunity to join the Wilderness Trust and Panthera Foundation in funding a lion research project in Zambia's Kafue National Park. At nearly 17 million acres, the greater Kafue Park, which includes the so-called Game Management Areas (GMAs) that surround the Park, is one of the largest protected areas in Africa. It is also one of 66 critical ecosystems across the continent identified by the IUCN as being essential to the future viability of the African lion. The study tracks three prides of lion (two in different habitats inside the Park, and one in an adjoining GMA, where villagers farm cattle and sport hunting of lions is permitted) to learn more about lion density and dynamics in these contrasting settings.

Some of the key research questions that will be addressed by the study include:

  • How does lion density vary between the National Park and the GMA?
  • Is the protected population limited by natural (i.e. prey abundance) or anthropogenic factors?
  • Is the lion population in the GMA sustainable or does it function as a "population sink", drawing in lions from the National Park?
  • How far does the edge effect extend inside the National Park (i.e. how does lion density vary in relation to distance from the boundary)?
  • Are population dynamics (pride size, sex ratio, survival rates, reproductive performance, spatial patterns, etc.) similar in the National Park and the GMA?
  • Do resident lions (male and female) inside the National Park range into the GMA, and what are the dispersal patterns of subadults?
  • How does lion diet vary between the National Park and GMA, and are there problems with livestock depredation/man-eating among communities?
  • Does lion behavior change with the level of protection?
  • How does seasonal flooding affect lion demography, spatial patterns, and conflict in the GMA?
  • How many lions are estimated to occur in the Greater Kafue National Park?

Lion on the Busanga Plains - Lion Research in Kafue National Park |  Best Luxury African Safaris | Classic Africa - Best Luxury African Safaris

The results of the study will have significant bearing on lion management and conservation strategies not only within the critical Kafue ecosystem itself, but across Zambia. And, since lion populations across core ranges in southern and Eastern Africa face many of the same challenges, the findings will be widely applicable across the continent.

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