Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Niassa Carnivore Project
Niassa Carnivore Project
Niassa National Reserve (NNR) is located in northern Mozambique on the border with Tanzania. It is one of the largest protected areas in Africa (42 000 km2) and is considered to be one of the “Last of the Wild” and most undeveloped places in Africa (WCS MegaFlyover and Human Footprint Project - Wildlife Conservation Society and Centre for International Earth Science Information Network, 2002).
Despite decades of war and neglect with only recent rehabilitation (2000), this extensive wilderness has survived largely intact (black rhino have disappeared). The protected area supports the largest concentrations of wildlife remaining in Mozambique including viable populations of the African lion, African wild dog, leopard and spotted hyaena. In addition these populations are linked to carnivore populations to the north in Tanzania (Selous Game Reserve) through the Selous – Niassa Wildlife Corridor. Rock art in the area shows that Niassa has always supported a human population and today more than 30 000 local residents live inside the protected area spread across 40 villages. Shifting subsistence agriculture is the primary land use and main economic activity. Cattle are absent due to tsetse fly, the vector for the disease trypanosomiasis, but smaller livestock, primarily goats and chickens, and domestic dogs are present in the larger villages.
The Niassa Carnivore Project (NCP) has been working in NNR since 2003 in close collaboration with SRN (The Society for the Development of the Niassa Reserve - the Management Authority of NNR), Niassa communities and tourism operators.
Through the work of the Niassa carnivore project, a population of more than 350 African wild dogs and 800-1000 lions have been identified in Niassa Reserve. As a result both lions and African wild dogs have been identified as a priority for research and conservation by SRN (the Management Authority of the Reserve). In addition NNR has been identified regionally as a priority for both lion and African wild dog conservation in eastern and southern Africa. The lion population is believed to be one of only five lion populations left in Africa that is currently increasing, with Niassa National Reserve a priority area for lion conservation while the Selous-Niassa trans-frontier wild dog population is the second largest wild dog population remaining in Africa. In addition, Niassa Reserve provides the core and source of largely unprotected lion and African wild dog populations extending from the east coast of Mozambique at Pemba to the western boundary with Malawi at Lake Niassa and extending 100 km southwards.
Aside from their conservation importance and status as flagships of Niassa, we believe that if we can secure these carnivore populations in the long term this will have broader biodiversity and social benefits for NNR and will go a long way towards securing NNR as a whole. The conservation of lions in particular touches on many of the major ecological and social challenges facing NNR at present and all these carnivores have the potential to generate significant revenues for communities and management of NNR through tourism initiatives. Grassroots community outreach and extension work will be fundamental to successful conservation efforts as the costs to communities living with large carnivores is significant through the loss of life, livelihoods and livestock. For example in the past eight years alone, 11 people have been killed by lion and 18 injured in the protected area and in 2008, a single male leopard killed 22 goats over a three week period in Mussoma village before being killed by the community. Similarly, there are currently serious threats to the large carnivores from people, including retaliatory killing as a result of human-carnivore conflict, indiscriminate snaring, the sport hunting of underage individuals (lion, leopard) and various disease risks, particularly rabies and canine distemper spread from domestic dogs. Successful sustainable conservation will require a multifaceted, collaborative approach that addresses both human and carnivore needs. The NCP pays particular attention to understanding human-carnivore conflict and developing, testing and finally implementing pragmatic and sustainable solutions in collaboration with Niassa communities. Emphasis on understanding the cultural role these carnivores play in the communities and reaffirming their cultural importance is considered vital. Targeted research and monitoring is essential to inform and monitor effective conservation activities however to ensure that monitoring is sustainable and ongoing and not researcher driven and important part of the project is to train selected NNR/ SRN staff and community scouts in relevant techniques and NNR is provided with detailed survey protocols as well as all the required equipment.
Photo courtesy of C.& K. Begg, Niassa Carnivore Project
In NNR, there is a unique opportunity to secure these populations and develop mitigation strategies before a crisis develops and support for conservation initiatives is eroded. However, the time for these actions is limited (less than 10 years) and if we do not act now this window of opportunity will close. NNR currently makes a significant contribution to the global conservation of all these carnivores largely due to its extreme size and remoteness, but the critical lack of resources faced by SRN and a rising human population inside the protected area with its associated increase in habitat transformation, human-wildlife conflict and poaching are an ever present threat.
The main goals of the Niassa Carnivore Project are:-
Use targeted research to specifically determine the status, density of and threats to lions, leopards, spotted hyaenas and African wild dogs in NNR and develop indicators and survey protocols that can be used for ongoing monitoring by local conservationists and SRN.
Examine the local contexts of large carnivore attacks, particularly by lions (humans, livestock) and identify, test and finally implement locally-derived, practical solutions with the active participation of local communities.
Develop and refine the Community-scout monitoring program to provide ongoing assessment of threats to carnivores, levels of human-carnivore conflict, and status of special species as well as provide incentives for community based natural resource management.
Assess and minimize the levels of disease risk (canine distemper, rabies, canine parvovirus) to African wild dogs and lions.
Collaborate with SRN and professional hunters to develop and implement locally developed sport hunting guidelines and trophy monitoring systems and providing independent monitoring of trophy quality for lion and leopard to ensure sustainable hunting while maximising economic returns to communities and SRN.
Initiate and manage community outreach initiatives (environmental education and extension work) in Niassa communities to promote the cultural, economic and conservation value of large carnivores and the use of effective conflict mitigation methods.
Ensure monitoring and conservation of carnivores in NNR is sustainable (not researcher driven) by providing appropriate training and mentorship, detailed surveying protocols and required equipment to NNR staff and local conservationists.
Disseminate the findings, mitigation strategies and protocols to inform broader national and regional conservation strategies and collaborate with local organisations wherever possible, including assisting and advising on Mozambican National Lion Conservation Strategy.
The Niassa Carnivore Project has a five pronged approach:
Targeted pragmatic research
Monitoring of threats and status
Direct mitigation of threats particularly human-carnivore conflict
Mentorship and training
Environmental education, awareness and community outreach
Sound ecological and social research underpins all our activities, as we believe that only with a good local understanding of the issues can effective conservation be achieved. Intensive ecological research is focused in a specific study area situated along the Lugenda River. Our research activities include:
Radio-marking of selected lion and leopard with a combination of GPS and VHF radio collars to understand movement patterns, density, age structure, prey etc with a particular focus on the movements patterns of lion around villagers (why and when do they enter the village fields. At present, 6 leopard and 4 lion are radio-marked.
Disease analysis from blood samples in collaboration with Mozambican State Veterinary Department
Remote Camera trapping to determine the relative densities of different carnivores, density of leopard in hunted and non hunted areas, different habitats and around village fields to assess movement of problem animals.
Track and visual transects to assess prey density and relative densities of large carnivores.
Questionnaire surveys throughout NNR to assess human-carnivore conflict, cultural values, domestic dogs etc..
Lion and Spotted hyaena call-up surveys to assess density, age structure and changes in population structure over time (every three years).
Ongoing monitoring of the status of the carnivore populations and their threats is critical so that solutions can be implemented and a crisis is averted. However, this needs to be closely linked to mentorship and training to ensure this is not researcher driven but sustainable and an integral part of the management of the Reserve. Our monitoring activities include development of a Community Monitoring System (following the Namibian model of MOMS – Management Orientated Monitoring System) whereby community monitors are identified by traditional leaders in each village, they are trained by NNR staff at an annual meeting, are supported by the NCP and currently collect information on conflict events, sightings of special species (the community information provides the basis of monitoring of wild dog packs) and fishing activities. These community monitors provide an important link between reserve management and communities and are a way for communities to get actively involved in natural resource management. To date (2006-2008), 14 monitors from 13 villages have been trained. A NCP goal is for there to be 80% coverage of Niassa villages by community by end of 2010.
Direct Mitigation of threats
The Niassa Carnivore project works towards understanding the specific threats to the large carnivore populations in Niassa using targeted research and then finding pragmatic, sustainable locally based solutions in collaboration with communities and SRN. The main threats to carnivores in Niassa are listed in the table below:
Inadvertent Snaring and poisoning
Snares set for ungulates for meat inadvertently catch carnivores
Human conflict - retaliatory killing
Loss of life, injury and stock losses
Sport hunting of underage individuals
Lion and leopard in trophy hunting concession in protected area
Disease - rabies and canine distemper
Spread from 200-300 domestic dogs resident in protected area
Targeted snaring for skin trade
Mainly for leopard, some lion
Low but increasing
Particularly wild dog, increasing as roads are upgraded
We are working to mitigate these threats in the following ways:
Supporting the vaccination and ongoing registration of domestic dogs inside the protected area boundary with development of zoning to prevent domestic dogs from spreading to villages where they are currently not present. Developing awareness material to protected people from rabies – posters, community meetings.
Using radio collaring to understand why large carnivores are entering villages and how this can be prevented
Testing ways to reduce warthog and bush pig damage in fields during the wet season as lions follow these favoured prey species into the fields and then come into direct contact with people.
Investigating carnivore attacks and identifying particular behaviours that place people and livestock at risk from attack (walking alone at night, sleeping outdoors, un-corralled goats). Communicating ways to minimize attacks to communities through village meetings, posters.
Developing of lion and leopard hunting sport hunting regulations for SRN that prevent hunting of underage animals (no lions under the age of six) and provide independent assessment and aging of trophies. This is linked to the development of visual aging characteristics that can be used by sport hunters to assess trophies accurately.
Supporting the NNR anti-poaching staff in NNR with equipment (GPS etc) and monitoring of snaring activities, investigation of alternatives.
Mentorship and Training
It is essential that carnivore conservation becomes and integral part of the management of NNR if it is to be sustainable in the long term and that it is not researcher driver .NCP provides training and mentorship to both NNR staff and local villagers. Our activities include providing NNR staff with direct field training on the project, providing NNR field staff with critical equipment where needed so they can work effectively (GPS, computer, binoculars, camera) and identifying and training local villagers as field assistants (GPS use, driving skills, radio tracking, basic car maintenance, trapping etc).
Education, Extension and Awareness
At present environmental education and extension work in Niassa communities is in its infancy. NCP reports information back to communities through local village meetings, posters and the community scouts. However the intention is to initiate more specific environmental education and a dedicated extension worker if funding can be found. NCP also disseminates information from the project to a broader Mozambican and international audience through scientific papers, presentations, assistance with national surveys, film, and popular articles.
The Trustees of The Predator Conservation Trust are pleased to be able to make a grant to the Niassa Carnivore Project in Mozambique. The grant is for £1000 and is intended to fund several things. The main part of the grant is for the work with the local community to reduce Human-Wildlife Conflict and includes Conflict Resolution Posters and Community meetings – conflict mitigation meetings and workshops. Another part of the grant is for Carnivore blood sample disease analysis. The final part of the grant is for general running costs, fuel etc.