RESEARCH IN THE OKONJIMA NATURE RESERVE
This research project is investigating the inter- and intraspecific relationship between different carnivore species in the 200 km2 Okonjima Nature Reserve, an enclosed conservation area. Study animals include cheetah Acinonyx jubatus , leopard Panthera pardus, and brown hyena Parahyaena brunnea. Interactions between predators, both within and between species are studied with the aid of VHF-telemetry, GPS-collars and camera traps. The study will assess the extent of intraguild predation and determine the size of home ranges and territories for individual animals within the reserve and how they relate to those of other predators. In addition the study will provide valuable information on the success of carnivore rehabilitation in the reserve.
To effectively manage carnivores within a closed reserve, a thorough understanding of their altered ecology is needed to make informed management decisions.
Thus, this research is aiming to assess the interactions between different large carnivore species that are sharing a limited space, to determine the degree of intraguild predation among the sympatric carnivores in the nature reserve and which predator avoidance strategies are implied by lower order carnivores such as cheetahs in an area of high leopard abundance. Regular monitoring allows us to establish data on whether and to what extent the perimeter fence that surrounds the reserve affects the self-regulation of population densities and if it represents a disadvantage for carnivores with large home range requirements, such as cheetahs, due to habitat saturation. The findings obtained will constitute a valuable input for the national and range-wide carnivore programmes that can be theoretically and practically be applied in large carnivore conservation.
OKONJIMA | AFRICAT LEOPARD DENSITY STUDY
The Okonjima Nature Reserve spans over 200 km², and provides a safe haven for the wildlife that live within. Fully surrounded by electrified predator-proof perimeter fencing, it creates an enclosed conservation area that protects resident carnivores from the surrounding communal and commercial farmland.
Such protected wilderness areas are increasingly important in the battle for wildlife conservation, especially when human encroachment of lands and the concurrent focus on human survival and dominance prevail.
These enclosed conservation areas provide safe areas for wild populations to live and breed, without the inevitable persecution from humans as the animals search for prey amongst farmland and livestock.
However, AfriCat are very cognizant of the fact that such protected envelopes alter the natural flow of carnivore movement and population dynamics, and this is addressed in the Leopard Density Study.
Effective fencing restricts natural dispersal patterns of carnivores and causes differences in their ecology and behavior when compared with their free-ranging counterparts. Shifts in home range and territory size, altered breeding patterns, a reduction in genetic diversity are all potential ‘hazards’ to the natural carnivore population.
Fundamental to ensuring healthy populations within enclosed and protected areas is to have management strategies in place to fully meet these challenges head on.
With these in mind, the Leopard Density Project observes and monitors the dynamics in the composition of the resident leopard population in the Okonjima Nature Reserve.
A camera trap monitoring programme has been established to identify and analyze changes in size and composition of these population numbers, and to evaluate trends in resource availability, competition and spatial organization.
The traps are remotely triggered and are an effective non-invasive tool which allow for observation of the leopards over time.
Findings from the programme are invaluable not only for managing the leopard population within the Okonjima Nature Reserve, but also as a body of data that helps National bodies to navigate strategies underpinning carnivore conservation at large.