-Reintroduction of lions in certain South African parks
-The landscape ecology of translocated lions
-The health status of a small, isolated lion population
WARNING- this info and some of the pictures have been taken from other
sites to insure as much data accuracy as possible. If you own one of this
sites and do not like the way this data is being used please contact me.
Most of this info is based on research obtained in the Serengeti [and I
for one don't agree with all the facts stated here, but most of it is probably
OF LIONS IN CERTAIN SOUTH AFRICAN PARKS
The following letter was written by Craig Packer to seek contributions to support lion conservation and reintroduction of new lion prides into certain South Africa reserves, those being: Pilansberg, Madikwe, Makalali, Kruger, Phinda, and Hluhluwe-Umfolozi.
[NOTE- all of this page is the same letter]
I have just returned from a three week trip to South Africa (mid-1997), and I wanted to ask if you could help fund two new research projects on wild lions. Both of these projects will assist in their establishment of lion populations in large parts of their original range. Carnivore re-introductions are being contemplated all over the world, but no one has been more active than the South Africans. Thus these projects will assist in the further release of African lions as well as serve as a model for comparable programs in Asia, Europe and North America.
In the following pages, I briefly describe each project. The first involves the release programs themselves. The second highlights the long-term prospects for the health and vigor of such small populations.
LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY OF TRANSLOCATED LIONS
During the first part of this century, the South Africans eradicated most of the wildlife outside of a few national parks. However, conservation activity has increased dramatically since the end of apartheid, and considerable energy is now being devoted to restoring natural ecosystems and to promoting Eco-tourism. Restoration of several large carnivore species has been one of the most prominent of these efforts - especially the return of African lions to many areas where they had once been exterminated. However, these translocations must be conducted with great care since lions pose a serious threat to local people as well as to livestock. Thus to ensure that the lions maintain a healthy caution for humans and retain a strong preference for wild herbivores, the introduced animals have been translocated from intact wildlife areas (usually Kruger National Park or from Namibia). Reserve managers also try to confine the lions to the reserves by maintaining re-inforced electrical fences.
However, accidents have happened (including one tourist who was killed by translocated lions in Phinda Resource Reserve), and no fence is perfectly lion proof. Thus considerable effort has been invested in monitoring these animals' movements, and I was invited to South Africa by Dr. Rob Slotow, a lecturer at the University of Natal, to determine how best to assist in the further release of lions to other parts of the country.
After touring four sites where lions had been released within the past 5 years and inspecting two other long-term study areas, Dr. Slotow and I feel that we can make the greatest impact on lion-release programs by analyzing the lions' ranging patterns. New mapping techniques called Geographical Information Systems (GIS) can identify the landscape features that are most important to the lions. This will help identify future sites where translocated lions would be most likely to reproduce successfully, a nd we can also suggest how to modify existing sites to keep the lions inside the reserve.
Lions hide their cubs in marshes or rocky outcrops ("kopjes") and ambush prey at rivers or water holes. Even where shelter and water are abundant, lions prefer to hunt near river confluence's that funnel prey into a small area. Thus some spots are highly attractive to lions, and remain so for generations. For example, in two parks where lions were re-introduced, the released animals first explored the entire reserve before selecting a specific area and developing a clear home range. Remarkably, in Pillnesberg National Park, the first pride settled around a water source that had been named Leeuwfonteyn (Lion Springs) by 19th Century settlers. In Madikwe Game Reserve, the first pride centered its range around a spot originally called Leeuwenhoek (Lion Corner).
Many further translocations are planned, and, in the newly established populations, there is concern that the lions may occupy areas too close to the electrified fences (where they would be more likely to escape to the surrounding countryside) and also become inaccessible to tourists. Thus we plan to work with land owners, park wardens, and conservationists to characterize the landscape of every lion reserve in South Africa. We will use this information to predict how lions are likely to distribute themselves within each reserve and to estimate whether a candidate reserve would be able to sustain a viable lion population. In several cases, we will be able to direct active "landscape management" programs. Several reserves are willing to re-locate waterholes, and most reserves are actively clearing brush in order to increase the amount of grasslands. The wardens would be delighted to place waterholes and clearings in areas that would maximally benefit the lions.
We have recently submitted a formal proposal to the National Science Foundation to fund the mapping and GIS analysis as well as to support a lion-monitoring team in South Africa. However, even if NSF approves our request, they cannot provide funds before 1998, and it is essential to start the project in the next few months. We received enthusiastic encouragement from the South Africans, and we have assembled a first-rate research team. But we are concerned that our field personnel might shift to other projects if we cannot start in a timely manner. Dr. Luke Hunter will be our post-doctoral associate on the project, and we need to provide him with several months salary and to support his operating costs. The project will initially include six different sites in North West Province, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal, with further sites being added as new lion populations are established. Thus we must cover considerable travel expenses. However, the Natal Parks Board, Northwest Parks Board, National Parks Boar d, and ConsCorp are all covering the costs of daily radio-tracking of the lions, so a modest budget can be stretched to cover a lot of research!
HEALTH STATUS OF A SMALL, ISOLATED LION POPULATION
While in South Africa, I visited the world's first translocated lion population. A lone male lion moved into the Hluhluwe/Umfolozi Park in 1958. Seven years later, HUP rangers "unofficially" released two females and their cubs. The three adults bred successfully, and their descendants repopulated the reserve. However, the park was not properly fenced and rangers shot any young lion that moved too close to the boundary. Thus the lions were routinely culled, and very few breeding-age animals contributed to the gene pool. The HUP lions are now believed to be highly inbred and therefore susceptible to infectious disease. Beginning in 1994, the lions were observed suffering from a variety of symptoms, including extensive skin lesions, water sacs on the legs, and a wasting disease. Two prides have been annihilated so far, and several other prides appear to be infected. HUP only contains about seven prides.
Preliminary investigations have not yet produced a definitive diagnosis (identifying only the cause of secondary infections rather than the underlying immunodeficiency). The lions have not been exposed to canine distemper (which can compromise the immune response) or rabies, and they do not appear to have been infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Park authorities suspect that the lions' immune responses have been impaired by close inbreeding. Consequently, a master's student, Byron Stein, has been conducting a genetic study of these animals to estimate the extent of inbreeding. His study is not yet completed, and I am concerned that the disease may soon "run its course" either running through the population or driving the population to extinction before it is properly diagnosed.
It is urgent to step up the veterinary investigations in HUP. Skin, blood, and lymph samples should be collected from the surviving animals as soon as possible. If this disease primarily infects inbred animals, then we must take vigorous steps to insure adequate genetic exchange between all of the remaining translocated populations (none of which will ever number more than a few dozen individuals). If the disease has nothing to do with inbreeding, we need to know its cause and whether it can be prevent ed in future.
The South Africans have all the equipment necessary to collect the tissue samples, but we need to provide funds to transport the samples to Europe and North America and pay for the necessary lab tests.
South Africa is a very dynamic and exciting place to work. I was extremely
impressed with the scientists and conservationists that I met during my
visit. However, the South African government is in the middle of a profound
transformation, and there is very little money within the country to finance
even the most urgent conservation problems. South Africa is also still
suffering from its long years' of political isolation, and they are looking
to other countries to provide scientific leadership and expertise. You
were instrumental in establishing the Serengeti dog vaccination program,
and your help will make a significant impact on the future of South Africa's
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