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Author ORCID Identifier

0000-0002-4934-837X

AccessType

Campus-Only Access for One (1) Year

Document Type

dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Environmental Conservation

Year Degree Awarded

2022

Month Degree Awarded

February

First Advisor

Todd K. Fuller

Second Advisor

Andrew B. Stein

Third Advisor

Peter W. Houlihan

Subject Categories

Natural Resources and Conservation

Abstract

Humans are having marked effects on the natural world, directly contributing to biodiversity declines around the globe. Large carnivores are disproportionately affected as they are wide-ranging, occur in low population densities, and are typically in conflict with humans. Large carnivores are now rare or absent from many ecosystems as their populations have plummeted and human-carnivore conflicts over livestock remain a main contributing factor. The situation is especially acute for the African lion (Panthera leo) as the species is in decline across Africa and has been extirpated from >80% of its historic range. Estimates show the population has decreased by ~90% in the last ~40 years and there are only ~20,000 lions left in the wild, most of which reside in protected reserves. Recently, the population stronghold in the Okavango Delta Region of northern Botswana was also shown to be in decline. This population is one of the largest in southern Africa and is one of only a handful of lion strongholds remaining on the continent.

Across five focal villages in the eastern panhandle of the Okavango Delta, I investigated human-lion conflict and established a community-based conflict mitigation program from October 2014 to December 2016. This multilevel study analyzed livestock depredation events, tracked and monitored the local lion population, implemented and tested the efficacy of innovative conflict mitigation strategies, and examined the attitudes of local villagers towards predators and the established conflict mitigation program. Main conflict mitigation strategies included the establishment of an early-warning system linked to the movements of GPS satellite collared lions as well as a predator-proof livestock enclosure building program utilizing locally-sourced materials.

Through independent investigations, I found that lions were responsible for ~75% of livestock depredation events in the area and 116 livestock were killed in 102 confirmed wild carnivore attacks. Most (90%) attacks occurred while livestock were unattended and freely grazing in multi-use, communal areas. Valuation of verified losses totaled ~$30,000 over the study period. Additionally, there were 50% more events reported to DWNP for compensation than were confirmed through independent investigations. Five lions (3 males & 2 females) were fitted with GPS satellite collars and home range size varied between the sexes but was not statistically different (males: x̄ = 584 km2, n = 3; females: x̄ = 319 km2, n=2). There was considerable spatial overlap in home ranges as neighboring collared individuals utilized high levels of shared space (female-female overlap: 152 km2, representing 41-56% of respective home ranges; male-male overlap: 125-434 km2 shared space, representing 16-90% of respective home ranges). Lions varied space use temporally to avoid potentially costly interactions with neighboring individuals, and highest levels of overlap occurred during the wet and early dry seasons when flood waters minimized the amount of available land area.

In attempt to mitigate human-lion conflict and associated impacts, twelve predator-proof livestock enclosures (“kraals”) were constructed from locally-sourced mophane (Colophospermum mopane) trees and villagers were shown how to construct the kraals for themselves. While they received strong reviews from villagers, only 66% of constructed kraals were regularly used to protect livestock overnight. Lion alert early-warning messages were dispersed throughout the villages when GPS satellite collared lions moved into areas of high livestock or human use. Collars were programmed with two “nested” electronic geofences denoting livestock grazing lands and village lands, enabling an email and text message notification to program staff who could then issue lion alert early warning to affected local stakeholders (within 5-8km of the breach location). Eighty-seven lion alerts (out of 101 geofence breaches) were dispersed to village headmen and elders and then passed throughout the community via a branching “phone tree”. The automated collar breach notification system was often delayed (x̅ = 8 hours), inhibiting the distribution of lion alert messages. Villagers responded favorably to the lion alert program, though only 36% of surveyed farmers had actually received an alert by the end of 2016. In pre- (n = 201) and post- (n = 208) assessment interviews, 50% of farmers reported losing livestock to wild carnivores and respondents had strong negative attitudes towards lions and other carnivores in general. However, over the course of the study, villagers noted an increase in their tolerance of lions and an increase in the belief that coexistence with lions is possible. Respondents had negative attitudes towards the government-run compensation program, citing low and late payments, but were supportive of our mitigation strategies. Despite challenges encountered here, these efforts show targeted, intensive conflict management can positively impact stakeholder tolerance of carnivores, and with some updates and modifications this project can serve as a model for other systems where high levels of human-wildlife conflicts exist.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.7275/27245741

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Wednesday, February 01, 2023

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