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© Chege Amos

Lion Landscapes #collaringforcoexistance program is developing a new innovative method to help save both livestock and lions lives. We are hopeful this new initiative will allow the human and lion residents of Laikipia to live in peace together.

Following last years’ land invasions for some of the lions in Laikipia, the killing of livestock has now become routine. If this trend is to continue retaliation will undoubtedly occur and we will see the lion populations of Laikipia suffer as a result.

Savannah Tracking have developed boma alarm stations to help deter lions from attacking livestock at night, these are currently being field tested by Lion Landscapes on Loisaba Conservancy. These alarms are triggered if the stations detect one of the collared lion approaching the livestock enclosure within a threshold distance of 200m. Flashing lights and noise are automatically activated causing the lions to bolt.

This new system was first put to the test at the camel boma on Loisaba Conservancy. Narok, (whose pride has been collared for the past ten years) and her pride approached the camel boma under the cover of darkness triggering the alarm and in turn getting quite a shock – the camels looked a little surprised too!

We are hopeful that this method will help re-educate the lions of Laikipia and they will go back to killing the plentiful wild prey. In conjunction to the boma alarm stations, real time data transmitted from the collars help livestock owners avoid the prides, helping to protect the lions and local livelihoods too. A big thank you to The Nature Conservancy and Tusk Trust for supporting Lion Landscapes with these collars.

A mother and cub relax around the remains of a large male impala. Only meters away, a male and female leopard were mating in thick shrub © Nicholas Pilfold

With some notable exceptions (e.g. lions, hyenas, wild dogs) most large African carnivores live a solitary existence. They hunt for food, raise young, and fend off rivals all on their own. This is particularly true for the species that I research at Loisaba Conservancy: the African leopard.

It is already a rare sight when more than one leopard is found in the same location, even more so with multiple individuals. But it does happen. The circumstances for why it happens can be as interesting as the event itself.

This past February, I had the chance to experience a leopard congregation (aka “a leap”) around a kill site. A large male impala had been killed by an equally large male leopard, and once he had his fill, other leopards moved in for leftovers. In many cases, this tolerance for sharing food would not have been allowed by a dominant male still at the kill site; but in this circumstance, he was distracted by a female looking for a mate.

An adult female looks back towards the direction of her departing male mate © Nicholas Pilfold

While the male consorted with the female within the privacy of some dense shrub, a mother and cub moved in on the leftovers. They were extremely relaxed around the kill, recognizing that the adult male was not a threat. Four leopards in a such a tight setting was a surprise and was only surpassed when the next morning a fifth leopard showed up to work on some of the last scraps high in a Boscia tree. The fact that the fifth leopard showed up so quickly likely meant she was in the vicinity when the kill happened the day before.

While leopards spend much of their lives in solitude, events like these remind us of their capacity for sociality in the right setting.

By: Nicholas Pilfold, Ph.D., San Diego Zoo Global

© Ambrose Letoluia

The first #Lionlandsapes #collaringforcoexistence collars were deployed last month on Loisaba Conservancy and Sosian Ranch. The matriarch of the Narok pride, one of the largest prides in the area was fitted with an iridium collar on Loisaba Conservancy after two nights waiting and watching. This pride has been collared consistently for over ten years allowing us a wonderful insight in to their family dynamics. The pride currently consists of the matriarch, and two younger females with six young cubs. A coalition of 4 adult males has also been seen associating with this pride!

© Isabelle Parsons

A collar was also deployed on Sosian Ranch on a lioness that is part of a pride that has been collared intermittently since 2007. The original lioness collared in 2007 was sadly killed by pastoralists on community land leaving behind a two year old son. Having been presumed dead he re-appeared after two years as a handsome male, forming a collation with another older male and taking over the pride. This young male was collared in 2015 for a collaborative research project and he became incredibly habituated, offering wonderful sightings to guests. Sadly, he was killed in February 2016 when the main Sosian pride males – five in total crossed the river and killed him in a territorial fight. The other male survived but the pride was rarely seen. After considerable patience from KWS vet Matthew Mutinda and the Lion Landscapes team, they darted and successfully collared a four year old lioness from this pride now named ‘Labai’. Her pride is made up of the old male who is very impressive, a younger male, two or three lionesses and two groups of cubs.

© Sean Outram

We can’t wait to keep you updated on these two prides and the cubs they are rearing but these collars are not fitted purely to monitor the populations. Following exposure to weak and poorly guarded community livestock last year, conflict between lions and humans has escalated in the Laikipia ecosystem.

It is imperative to collar the misbehaving lions who have learnt to kill livestock so that real time movement data transmitted from the iridium collars can allow lions to be monitored closely, and teams on the ground respond if lions move into areas where they may get into trouble. Because this is so imperative, other projects (Living With Lions and University of California) are joining Oxford University based Lion Landscapes in contributing collars. Save the Elephants have developed a user-friendly app that maps the lion on google earth giving livestock owners the ability to avoid lions, or increase protection efforts in response to actual lion presence, thus better defending their livestock from lion attacks.

© Isabelle Parsons

In conjunction with the app, Savannah Tracking have designed a Boma Shield System. This system responds to chips in the specially designed lion collars by setting off alarms and lights when the collared lion comes within 200 meters of a boma.  The harmless deterrents used are currently being field trialed by Lion Landscapes on Loisaba Conservancy, Sosian Ranch and Suyian Ranch.

Thank you very much to our wonderful partners The Nature Conservancy and Tusk Trust who have supported Lion Landscapes with these collars. We hope that the combination of the real time movement data and boma shield system will reduce the number of retaliatory killing of lions by informing and engaging livestock owners directly and also help to retrain livestock killing lions into thinking that livestock is off the menu!!

By: Izzy Parsons

Managing a conservancy as vast and diverse as Loisaba in a challenging landscape with limited resources can be tough, really tough. To do so effectively we have to be ‘Smart’ – literally. SMART also known by its longer name (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) is a specifically developed protected area management tool designed to measure, evaluate and improve the overall effectiveness of law enforcement patrols. In doing so protected area managers, such as Loisaba Conservancy CEO Tom Silvester are provided with the necessary information at their fingertips to make adaptive management decisions.

In April we started the SMART journey with assistance from our partners Space for Giants and the Zoological Society of London. Amos Chege and Redempta Njeri spent several months gradually training rangers in the use of a simple mobile phone App called Cybertracker, which is essentially the data collection vehicle for SMART. Some of the rangers got the hang of it straight away while others struggled, but by the end of June we had identified and trained sufficient rangers to have one competent user per patrol group on the conservancy.

Today, every patrol group on the conservancy is hard at work collecting critical information on wildlife sightings and potential threats (e.g. snares and/or poaching) to wildlife. Because the phones that the rangers use are GPS enabled, we are able to view their patrols on a computer giving us an indication of the patrol effort (e.g. distance patrolled, hours patrolled etc.) where they recorded sightings and threat and possibly most importantly, what the blind spots are on the conservancy.

Every week, Amos Chege, Loisaba’s Conservation Officer visits each patrol base and downloads the data onto his computer. Together with input from the Space for Giants team a weekly report is created giving us a spatial view of what is happening on the conservancy and this is then discussed by the management to take appropriate action. SMART is proving to be a ‘game-changer’ and is going to help Loisaba develop into one of the leading conservancies in the landscape.

By: Izzy Parsons