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BLAS COMMUNITY & CONSERVATION PROJECTS

Our aim is to conserve some of the most beautiful places in the world. We realise how deeply connected we are to each other and the earth – it belongs to all of us. Locally lead conservation efforts are needed all around the world to empower communities. It is our duty as a tour company to make sure communities benefit from nature and wilderness they help protect. It’s about helping communities become owners of their own tourism activities.

Hwange Elephant Movement Study

Hwange Elephant Movement Study 2

Introduction

The overall aim of the project is to gain a better understanding of elephant movements and habitat use in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, where elephant density is particularly high. This will be achieved by studying the relative contribution of resources (water and food), social interactions (dominance hierarchies) and predation risk (by lions) to this key aspect of elephant ecology.

Researcher: Arnold Tshipa

Country: Zimbabwe
Hwange Elephant Movement Study 3
Hwange Elephant Movement Study 4
Hwange Elephant Movement Study 1

Background

It is essential that we learn more about elephant movements and habitat use in order to gain a better understanding of their impact on ecosystems. Previous studies have emphasised the role of water in constraining elephant ecology and habitat preferences are reasonably well understood. However, little is known about the ways in which elephant competition influences use of waterholes and habitat. This is critical in order to better understand and predict elephant dynamics, particularly in areas with high-density populations, such as Hwange National Park.Results from new studies in Hwange are revealing the constraints imposed by the scarce distribution of waterpans and the likely intense competition that elephants face when choosing where to drink or forage. These choices are likely to be affected by strong inter-group dominance which has previously been reported in elephants. The social influence on elephant movements and habitat use remains relatively unknown, with only Wittemyer et al recently showing that dominant herds in Samburu, Kenya, were able to monopolise the best foraging areas and walked less than subdominant ones. This issue needs to be clarified in order to understand how elephant movements and habitat use change when elephant density increases, and therefore competition increases too.

Although it is likely to have a low impact on elephant demography, regular predation by lion may lead elephant to respond behaviourally (e.g. avoidance) to lion presence. It has been shown in other herbivores that anti-predator spatial responses may override any other drivers of movements or habitat use and this needs to be studied in elephant.

Objectives

The main objective is to determine how higher elephant densities and individual dominance status may influence how far from water elephants will go to forage, how this influences the quality of the patch in which they forage, and how easily they can access water. The following actions will be taken:

  1. Collar 10 elephant cows with GPS collars.
  2. Determine the dominance status of the study’s herds using field observation.
  3. Determine resource availability and quality by regularly monitoring water presence in pans and quality of foraging patches. Also, determine local elephant densities using censuses.
  4. Determine movement parameters and habitat use through elephant GPS-tracking data.
  5. Determine predation risk by using field observation of lion presence and possibly lion GPS-tracking data.
  6. Build comprehensive models of elephant movement and habitat use which integrate all the above-mentioned aspects (resources, dominance status, and predation risk) to disentangle their relative contributions.
Hwange Elephant Movement Study 5

Namibia Desert Lion Conservation Project

image-ndlcp

Introduction

Namibia supports a unique population of desert-adapted lions that survive in the harsh Namib Desert. The “desert” lion is a prominent feature in Namibia and is highly valued, both aesthetically and financially, by the growing tourism industry. Namibia has received international recognition (e.g. CITES) for successful conservation efforts, such as the Communal Conservancy Programme, which has lead to significant increases in wildlife numbers, especially in the arid areas.

With the growing wildlife populations, however, the conflict between lions and the local people has intensified as lions are killing livestock more regularly. In protection of their livestock, farmers often shoot, trap, or poison lions. These local communities bear the costs of living with lions, but do not share equally in the benefits from tourism, and they receive little assistance in managing conflicts.

The value of the unique “desert” lions to tourism in the Kunene Region in particular, and to the Namibian tourism industry in general, is of great significance. However, for the long-term conservation of desert lions to succeed, there is a need to monitor their population ecology and to address human-lion conflicts.

This long-term study therefore aims to learn more about this unique lion population and assist local communities with conflicts whenever and wherever they occur. This knowledge will help in the successful conservation of the species will benefit both the tourism industry and the local communities which generally bear the costs of living with these predators. Both lions and people will thus benefit from the project.

Researcher: Dr Philip Stander

Region: Namibia
Organization: TOSCO Trust
Qualifications
The Desert Lion Conservation Project was started by Dr Philip Stander in 1998. He worked for the Ministry of Environment and Tourism for 23 years, studying the ecology of large carnivores. He completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge in 1994, and his thesis on the evolution of sociality in felids, was awarded the “T H Huxley Prize” by the London Zoological Society. He is considered the Namibian “lion expert,” especially when it comes to desert-adapted lions, which he has studied full time for the last 14 years.

Objectives

  • Collect baseline ecological data on the population dynamics, behaviour, and movements of lions.
  • Monitor the key ecological and biological parameters of the desert lion population.
  • Monitor the frequency and impact of conflicts between people and lions.
  • Develop and implement human-lion conflict management plans at local community level.
  • Develop and promote specialised “lion eco-safaris” and other forms of sustainable utilisation.
  • Collaborate with Government, local communities, and NGOs to further lion conservation.
  • Make important information available to the world, through publication and the Internet.

Gondwana Eco Camp

Gondwana Game Reserve (GGR) has developed a one of a kind conservation tourism experience for individuals, families or groups who want to get more involved in Africa on their safari. BLAS in partnership with GGR actively supports this noble initiative. Participants will be involved in wildlife and veld management, learn important bush skills and interpretation, and simply enjoy a behind the scenes view of a Big Five private game reserve. The research and findings from the program are fed back to Gondwana’s conservation department to assist in decision making enhancing the reserve management plan. The itinerary will include plenty of game drives, bush walks, and down time in an utterly inspiring landscape. This is your chance to get involved with the important conservation work of a Big Five game reserve and not only enjoy but contribute.