Our goal is not to do in-depth biological research on lions or any other carnivore in Niassa. Research is only a part of our work if it answers specific conservation questions. However, ongoing monitoring plays a vital role in our conservation programs as part of adaptive management.
The first step of the project (2003-2007) was to understand the threats facing lions, leopards, spotted hyaena and African wild dogs in Niassa National Reserve (NNR) and to establish baseline information that we could use for comparison to evaluate our progress in the medium to long term (10-20 years). Wherever possible we identify simple indicators that can help us monitor population trends over time.
Large carnivores are notoriously difficult to survey. In a place the size of Niassa with few visitors, and roads, a census (or complete count) of known lions, leopards, spotted hyaenas or wild dogs is impossible. The most important question is not “How many lions are there in Niassa?” but “Are the lion, leopard or hyaena populations increasing, decreasing or stable?”
Our work starts by asking simple questions to get the baseline. We use socio-ecological surveys to collect data from local communities about both human behaviors and threats from carnivores. For example, we have collated a detailed database of all lion attacks on people and livestock across NNR since 1970 in order to identify behaviors that make people and livestock vulnerable to attack. These data showed that sleeping outside in the fields in the wet season was the single most risky behavior making people vulnerable to lion attacks. From these data we were able to start our safe behaviours and safe shelters program. We have also conducted surveys on the relative reliance on bush-meat compared to other protein sources, hunting techniques, the importance of the fishing industry as a source of income and protein, goat husbandry, and the perceptions people have of different carnivores.
Through ongoing monitoring we assess pilot programs like our elephant-beehive fence project, guineafowl breeding, living fence and our anti-poaching programs. Read more about these programs here. Through these small pilot programs we can make changes to meet local conditions, and discard programs that are not working before there is a huge investment in time and money. We test small. We accept that some of our programs will fail. We share all our results in our detailed annual reports so that others can learn from our mistakes and successes.
Our current research and monitoring activities include:
- Radio-marking of selected lions in the L5-South (our intensive study area) with a combination of GPS and VHF radio collars and visual aging cues to collect data on mortality, movement patterns, survival of young males, turnover, and density.
- MOMS wildlife guardian program (started in 2006) throughout villages in NNR, where local people resident in their village monitor fish catches, human wildlife conflict events, mortality of key species, and special species sightings around their villages. Read more here…
- Remote camera trapping each year in 2km grids to determine occupancy and densities in carnivores and their prey over time. These remote cameras are triggered by movement. We have joined Snapshot Safari to analyze the camera trap photos through citizen science. You can help us classify our camera trap images on Snapshot Mariri here: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/meredithspalmer/snapshot-mariri/classify
- Call-up surveys to assess the trend in lion and hyaena numbers throughout the NNR every 3 years (this has been done exactly the same way in 2005, 2008, 2012, 2015 and 2018).
- A Niassa Carnivore sightings app for visitors and all Niassa Reserve staff to record sightings and prey of carnivores across NNR to feed in our ongoing databases.
- Annual monitoring and assessment of all lion and leopard sport trophies as independent auditors to assess the hunting off-take and the age of trophy animals.
- Monitoring of attacks on people and livestock by carnivores.
- In depth research on the bushmeat trade and consumption as part of Agostinho Jorge’s PhD (currently being analysed).
- Ongoing assessment of benefits and tolerance in communities where we work.
- Assessment of the transfer of knowledge by our education programs through an innovative app that was developed specifically for non-literate children and adults. This app allows us to assess the changes in tolerance and knowledge before and after a visit to the Mariri Environmental Centre.
- Ongoing assessment of fish catches and fish trade from Lugenda River to ensure this vital source of protein for people is protected.
- Monitoring of antipoaching effort, coverage and success through SMART.