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High-Tech tracks Luangwa lions

High-Tech tracks Luangwa lions

High-Tech tracks Luangwa lions

Since 2003, Dr Paula White has been studying wild carnivores in Zambia. What began as an investigation of secretive, nocturnal genets in North Luangwa, quickly grew into a country-wide project on what may be the most iconic of all species, the African lion.           

Dr White’s Zambia Lion Project operates primarily outside of the parks, seeking the  more elusive (and less-studied) lions that reside in the surrounding game management areas.           

Biopsy darts are one of the high-tech approaches that White has been using, allowing her to sample individual lions without the need to drug or handle them. The high-quality DNA contained within the tiny snip allows White to learn more about the valley’s lion populations, including elusive individuals seldom seen by the public.

DNA analyses are being used to estimate the number of lions in the Luangwa Valley ecosystem, measure their genetic biodiversity to assess the level of  inbreeding, examine the distance and direction of dispersing individuals, as well as conduct paternity tests of adult males.

“To study cats that are rarely seen, you need to get creative,” says White who, in addition to DNA work, uses playback equipment such as the bawling buffalo calf to detect the presence of lions as well as to attract them for sampling. Spoor counts and interviews with professional hunters and photographic guides provide seasonal account data, which over the course of multiple years can be used to establish population trends.

Most recently, White has been using GPS radio-collars (equipped with automatic drop-off mechanisms) as a comparative method to document lion movements, range and habitat use.           

White cites the crucial role that safari-hunting operators play in protecting the game management areas which serve as buffer zones around national parks, and much of her work is dedicated to developing and promoting sustainable hunting. Towards this end, White is working closely with Zambia Wildlife Authority and the hunting fraternity to develop mandatory sampling, and the adoption of an age-based trophy selection program similar to that in Tanzania.

Zambezi Traveller looks forward to covering Dr White’s work in more depth in future issues.

Read more about the region in our destination guide:

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 08, March 2012)