In 2007 Andrei Snyman established the Northern Tuli Predator Project, a registered research project with the Botswana Department of Wildlife and Natural Parks. The project looks at aspects of ecology and behaviour of large carnivores specialising in lions and leopards.
One of the key aspects of his research is the mitigation of human-predator conflict in the region. What started out as a two-year Masters-degree project has now developed into a comprehensive PhD program at the School of Natural Resources, University of Nebraska- Lincoln, USA.
Wild Animal Encounters Foundation Director Ben Britton originally met Andrei back in 2009 whilst on assignment for Nat Geo Wild, with the two forming an instant friendship based on their mutual goals for big cat conservation. Over the last six years Ben has been assisting Andrei with both his research work on the ground in Botswana, and by raising awareness and much needed funds back in Australia via the Wild Animal Encounters Foundation.
Imagine a world without the king of beasts, imagine Africa without its most iconic species- the lion. That is quickly becoming a reality today. There are over 7 billion people on earth and the African continent alone has over 1.2 billion. To sustain these high numbers, people are consuming the planets natural resources at an alarming rate.
As a result, the lion have disappeared from over 80% of its historic range and in the last 50 years lion numbers have plummeted from over 200,000 to less than 32,000. Lions are currently listed as VULNERABLE on the IUCN red list. The four primary factors driving the decline in lion numbers are: Habitat loss, depletion of natural prey, increasing human wildlife conflict and poaching.
Most lion populations today are restricted to small-protected areas scattered across the continent. In fact, there are only 67 designated lion conservation units throughout the landscape and only 10 of them are considered ‘lion-strongholds’, which essentially has more than a 1,000 lions. The majority however are small and fragmented – essentially islands amongst a sea of humanity.
As with any animal population confined in an isolated area, lions are also vulnerable to local extinction due to stochastic events. Even though a small-protected area might not be viable for a lion population in the long run, a network of small-protected areas, connected by corridors, can in itself function as a larger body through which the viability and sustainability of lions can be maintained.
The fundamental purpose of corridors is to facilitate the passage of genetic material safely from one area to the next. The effectiveness of corridors depends on the type and quality of habitat it is comprised of, the surrounding matrix of land use and the width and length of each corridor.
The development and assessment of corridors has formed the backbone of the project. By implementing remote sensing and geographic information systems Andrei is able to identify and quantify landscape features and variables in an effort to model and predict viable corridors for lions throughout his study area. Model predictions are also based on empirical data of over a decade’s worth of lion GPS movement data, collected by GPS collars fitted to lions.