Lion populations have undergone a severe decline in West Africa. As baseline for conservation management, we assessed the group structure of lions in the Pendjari Biosphere Reserve in Benin. This reserve, composed of one National Park and two Hunting Zones, is part of the WAP transboundary complex of protected areas. Overall mean group size was 2.6±1.7 individuals (n?=?296), it was significantly higher in the National Park (2.7±1.7, n?=?168) than in the Hunting Zones (2.2±1.5, n?=?128). Overall adult sex ratio was even, but significantly biased towards females (0.67) in the National Park and towards males (1.67) in the Hunting Zones. Our results suggest that the Pendjari lion population is affected by perturbations, such as trophy hunting.
Predators influence prey populations not only through predation itself, but also indirectly through prompting changes in prey behaviour. The behavioural adjustments of prey to predation risk may carry nutritional costs, but this has seldom been studied in the wild in large mammals. Here, we studied the effects of an ambush predator, the African lion (Panthera leo), on the diet quality of plains zebras (Equus quagga) in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. We combined information on movements of both prey and predators, using GPS data, and measurements of faecal crude protein, an index of diet quality in the prey. Zebras which had been in close proximity to lions had a lower quality diet, showing that adjustments in behaviour when lions are within short distance carry nutritional costs. The ultimate fitness cost will depend on the frequency of predator-prey encounters and on whether bottom-up or top-down forces are more important in the prey population. Our finding is the first attempt to our knowledge to assess nutritionally mediated risk effects in a large mammalian prey species under the threat of an ambush predator, and brings support to the hypothesis that the behavioural effects of predation induce important risk effects on prey populations.
Large carnivores inhabiting ecosystems with heterogeneously distributed environmental resources with strong seasonal variations frequently employ opportunistic foraging strategies, often typified by seasonal switches in diet. In semi-arid ecosystems, herbivore distribution is generally more homogeneous in the wet season, when surface water is abundant, than in the dry season when only permanent sources remain. Here, we investigate the seasonal contribution of the different herbivore species, prey preference and distribution of kills (i.e. feeding locations) of African lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, a semi-arid African savanna structured by artificial waterholes. We used data from 245 kills and 74 faecal samples. Buffalo consistently emerged as the most frequently utilised prey in all seasons by both male (56%) and female (33%) lions, contributing the most to lion dietary biomass. Jacobs index also revealed that buffalo was the most intensively selected species throughout the year. For female lions, kudu and to a lesser extent the group "medium Bovidae" are the most important secondary prey. This study revealed seasonal patterns in secondary prey consumption by female lions partly based on prey ecology with browsers, such as giraffe and kudu, mainly consumed in the early dry season, and grazers, such as zebra and suids, contributing more to female diet in the late dry season. Further, it revealed the opportunistic hunting behaviour of lions for prey as diverse as elephants and mice, with elephants taken mostly as juveniles at the end of the dry season during droughts. Jacobs index finally revealed a very strong preference for kills within 2 km from a waterhole for all prey species, except small antelopes, in all seasons. This suggested that surface-water resources form passive traps and contribute to the structuring of lion foraging behaviour.
We test two hypotheses that could account for patch departure by large mammalian carnivores. One hypothesis is the unsuccessful-hunt hypothesis, where carnivores leave an area after an unsuccessful hunt but continue hunting in the same area after a successful hunt. The second hypothesis is the patch-disturbance hypothesis, where carnivores depart the area after a successful hunt because of behavioral responses of prey to predator presence. We used global positioning system collars to monitor the movements of African lions (Panthera leo) and identified their kill sites to distinguish between these two hypotheses. Lions moved to a different area (? 5 km away) after 87% of the kills, which supports the patch-disturbance hypothesis for patch-departure behavior of large mammalian carnivores.
We explore variation in the prices paid by recreational hunters of trophy animals in Africa and its possible causes, including perceived rarity. Previous work has raised the possibility that extinction can result if demand rises fast enough as a species becomes rarer. We attempt to disentangle this from other inter-correlated influences affecting price. Species with larger body sizes and larger trophies were more valuable. Value increased less steeply as a function of size for bovids than for felids and the effect was consistent across countries. Power laws, ubiquitous in physical and social systems, described the trends. The exponent was approximately 0.4 for bovids, compared with approximately 1.0 for felids. Rarity (as indexed by IUCN score) influenced the value of bovid trophies - price was higher for species in categories denoting higher global threat. There was substantial variation in price among and within families not explained by either size or rarity. This may be attributable to a charisma effect, which seems likely to be a general attribute of human perceptions of wildlife. Species where prices were higher than predicted by size or rarity are ranked high in published accounts of desirability by hunters. We conclude that the valuation of these species is explicable to a large extent by body size and perceived rarity, and that differences in valuation between taxonomic groups are related to less easily quantified charisma effects. These findings are relevant for conservationists considering the threat status of species exploited in open access markets, and where license quotas are adjusted in response to changes in perceived rarity.
Empirical tests of the resource dispersion hypothesis (RDH), a theory to explain group living based on resource heterogeneity, have been complicated by the fact that resource patch dispersion and richness have proved difficult to define and measure in natural systems. Here, we studied the ecology of African lions Panthera leo in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, where waterholes are prey hotspots, and where dispersion of water sources and abundance of prey at these water sources are quantifiable. We combined a 10-year data set from GPS-collared lions for which information of group composition was available concurrently with data for herbivore abundance at waterholes. The distance between two neighboring waterholes was a strong determinant of lion home range size, which provides strong support for the RDH prediction that territory size increases as resource patches are more dispersed in the landscape. The mean number of herbivore herds using a waterhole, a good proxy of patch richness, determined the maximum lion group biomass an area can support. This finding suggests that patch richness sets a maximum ceiling on lion group size. This study demonstrates that landscape ecology is a major driver of ranging behavior and suggests that aspects of resource dispersion limit group sizes.
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