Ruaha Carnivore Programme
Human-wildlife conflict is an issue of critical conservation importance, and is one of the main threats facing large carnivores today, particularly in areas near reserves. Large cats and other carnivores can impose significant costs on households through livestock depredation, and they are also often feared due to the possible risk of attacks on humans themselves. Frequently, the response to this conflict is lethal control of the carnivores concerned, and this can have a significant impact on carnivore populations. For instance, cheetahs have undergone a dramatic population decline and range contraction over the past century, with human-wildlife conflict identified as one of the key reasons for this decline. Other carnivores have also undergone similar declines, and continuing human-carnivore conflict poses a critical threat to remaining populations in many areas.
Successfully addressing this conflict, however, depends on accurately identifying sources of conflict and developing the most appropriate and effective resolution techniques. This project focuses on five large carnivore species (lion, cheetah, leopard, African wild dog and spotted hyaena) for whom conflict with humans is an issue of great importance. The study aims to quantify the levels of conflict experienced with these species by pastoralists in an area adjacent to Ruaha National Park in Tanzania (a globally important area for large carnivores), assess which factors significantly affect attitudes, and examine which techniques are most effective in mitigating conflict.
In total, interviews have now been conducted with nearly 300 pastoralists living in villages close to Ruaha National Park in Tanzania, and have revealed high levels of reported conflict with large carnivores. At each household, the livestock bomas (thornbush corrals) were examined, livestock husbandry methods were assessed, and habitat analyses were conducted, to try to identify possible factors which may contribute to higher levels of livestock depredation. In addition, we conducted driving transects around target study villages, to assess relative abundances of wild prey and livestock, and to examine the relationship between reported human-carnivore conflict and wild prey densities.
We have also collected nearly 300 scats (faecal samples) from large carnivores in the study area over the past twelve months, and have trained detection dogs to assist us in further scat location work. Collection of these scats will provide very valuable information on large carnivores prey selection, and will allow us to compare local perceptions of conflict with evidence for livestock depredation found in the scats. Moreover, DNA analysis of these scats will provide important information on population structure, large carnivore movements, and will provide additional data regarding which specific carnivores (for instance males rather than females) appear to be causing most livestock depredation. GIS mapping has been used to provide a spatial map of conflict across the study area, and statistical analyses have been conducted to examine the drivers behind variation in conflict across this important landscape, identifying ethnic group, religion and livestock husbandry techniques as key factors influencing the magnitude of human-carnivore conflict. This more detailed understanding of the issue will assist in developing and implementing the most appropriate conflict resolution strategies, enable the most effective targeting of conservation dollars, and will have significant benefits for local communities.
Other important aspects of the study include the training and capacity-building of local people. We have so far trained three research assistants and 19 carnivore monitors in villages in Idodi and Pawaga, who visit local households every month to collect information on stock losses and provide information on how best to reduce predator attacks. We also give presentations at local villages on carnivore ecology and behaviour and the most effective methods of livestock husbandry, as well as discussing issues with wildlife with local people. We have produced and distributed reports on the project results to local stakeholders, as well as developing and disseminating a guide to the large carnivores living around Ruaha, how to identify their tracks, scats and kills, and how to best protect both people and livestock from the possibility of a carnivore attack. In addition, we have distributed simple, low-technology noise-makers to local pastoralists which have so far proved very effective at scaring carnivores away from households and stock at night. We aim to develop this project considerably in the future and hope that we can continue to work closely with the people living around Ruaha National Park to help make human-carnivore coexistence slightly easier, with important benefits both for humans and wildlife in this globally important area.