It’s Monday 29th November 2010 and ZCP report from Liuwa

I’m back from the cold Europe and still flooded with e-mails: follow ups from World Travel Market tradeshow, Mkulumadzi promotion, brochures inclusions, advertising……. and in the middle of all this e-mails I had a pearl, an exciting update from Dr Matt Becker, the project manager for the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP), about Liuwa Plain carnivores. The ZCP team is based at Nkwali camp and has been operating in Zambia since 1998, carrying out conservation and research activities to conserve Zambia’s populations of this highly endangered species. Since June this year ZCP have been in Liuwa Plain tracking the carnivores, doing call-in surveys in the field. I’m delighted to share their update with you:

WildebeestWildebeest

It’s been an incredibly busy but productive season for us, so we’ve been out of communications quite a bit.  But as the last of the blustery hot season winds swirl the dry leaves about Matamanene, anvil-shaped clouds build on the vast horizon, and the landscape again begins to resonate with the rolling grunts of great wildebeest herds returning south, now accompanied by thousands of spindly-legged new calves, I wanted to write a quick update on Liuwa Plain.

HyenaCheetah

Given the size of the Liuwa ecosystem, its potential connectivity to neighboring wildlife areas in Angola, and the fact that it harbors several endangered and threatened species such as wild dog and cheetah, the area is of key importance for large carnivores.  In addition, because all these species compete with each other and the top carnivore in the system, the lion, was functionally eliminated from the Liuwa, we can gain a lot of conservation insights into the dynamics of competing carnivore species as their numbers and interactions change with the restoration of this great ecosystem.

Wild dogsWild dogs

The Sausage Tree pack, the local wild dog pack, denned the 6th of July just outside of the park and 9 pups came out of the den, which at this writing are still alive and well, making it a pack of 18 dogs.  The dogs stayed at their den for three months and have recently become mobile again, ranging all over the park and GMA and causing all sorts of headaches for us in trying to follow them!  Last year’s pups documented in November all survived to yearling age from both packs and thus should current trends continue we hope to see a good cohort of dogs into the Liuwa population from the last two years’ breeding.

HyenaHyena

As the most abundant large carnivore in the system hyena are obviously a key species for our studies, and we are presently following at least 4 large clans intensively.  To date no hyena have moved with the herds, instead remaining in the south and continuing to prey largely on wildebeest, though mostly adult males that remain behind.  However one male, recognizable by an injury to its face was during our surveys far to the northwest of where it’s been normally observed, indicating that at least some hyena do move over considerably large distances, so time will tell how the wildebeest herds’ movements factor into the dynamics of all these species.

Cheetha were sighted multiple times in June and July, including 4 in Matamanene camp one morning! The most frequently observed cheetah around camp are a mother and her three old cubs, which have allowed us to follow them on hunts during multiple occasions, watching them catch numerous oribi. Most cheetah are still shy however; thus it will take time to habituate and collect data on this important species. Any pictures any of you may have of cheetah and dog from the last couple years would be greatly appreciated too as we can use them for individual ID’s and aging! You can send them to ZCPLiuwa@gmail.com

Lady Liuwalion

The lions continue to frequent the Matamanene area, but have also ranged over the whole of the park, including a 50km one-way trek up into the northwest corner of the West Zambezi GMA and back in 3 days!  While they remain largely in the south during the safari periods the animals regularly hunted in the far eastern and northern portions of the park throughout the winter, which was quite unexpected.  Lady Liuwa continues to be with the males regularly, but to date has not shown signs of pregnancy, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.

HyenaHyena

Egil and I had the opportunity to assist the Liuwa crew with work this October, including dry season call-in surveys (using playbacks of hyenas and prey) of hyena throughout the park and into the neighboring GMA .  As part of this work, and in preparation for an intensive carnivore survey tentatively scheduled, funding permitted, for next year in collaboration with Working Dogs for Conservation, we took an expedition to the far north, up along the park border and the northwest corner of the GMA near the Angolan border (and in the area of a proposed Transfrontier Park), where many of the wildebeest winter.  While we did not have any new lions come to the call-ins, we did find fresh spoor of another pack of wild dogs, complementing sightings from Dennis and other scouts of dogs and cheetah in the GMA there.

So that’s the news in brief; spring is in the air, we’re off to work again, and perhaps we’ll see some of you with Robin and his crew in a few weeks!

Take care,
Matt and the Liuwa Team

Vultures

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