Effective conservation starts with a solid, scientific foundation.
We support local research projects with Etosha Ecological Institute and Etosha Large Carnivore Monitoring Program studying the basics of lion ecology and what drives Etosha's unique ecosystem.
Ecology seeks to understand the relationships between animals and the world around us. Ecology research questions might ask where animals prefer to live ("habitat preference") or what they like to eat ("prey preference").
Studying animal movement gives us important answers to these questions. By comparing a lion's movements to its surroundings (like vegetation or land use type) we can understand how pressures like environmental change and human-lion conflict (HLC) affect where lions live or when and why they move.
Tracking Animal Movements
Researching animal movement patterns historically involved following an animal over many days or months to record their location coordinates, behavioral data, and social interactions.
Lions regularly move across large areas (called a "home range") and since they're nocturnal animals and pros at daytime camouflage, finding them isn't always so easy! Instead, our teams use remote technology equipped with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to follow lions and prides as they move throughout the landscape.
GPS Satellite Collars
Satellite collars with GPS trackers allow researchers to remotely pinpoint precise lion locations several times a day. Collars are costly but they allow us to collect large datasets about lion movement with very little effort.
This information shows patterns in habitat use that help us determine lion home ranges in Etosha's landscape. Examining how these patterns vary by time of day, season, or where prey species are helps us predict how environmental change or conservation action plans may affect lion movements and survival.
Fitting a GPS satellite collar on a sedated adult male lion
Checking the radio frequency on the sedated lion's collar
Male lion is up and awake wearing a new GPS satellite collar
Satellite collars collect valuable location data for individual animals, but some research questions require seeing how animals interact. Unfortunately, collars are very expensive so we can't collar every lion in a pride, much less every animal in an area!
Camera traps are another useful technology that allows us to gather information remotely with the added benefit of getting the whole picture. We usually place traps in high traffic lion areas like waterholes and high risk conflict areas such as along the fenceline.
Pride dynamics and predator-prey interactions are important parts of the relationship between Etosha's lions and landscape. The photos and videos recorded on camera traps can be even more useful than satellite data for answering these types of "social ecology" questions.
Camera traps can log how frequently prides visit an area, what a lion is eating or the social interactions occurring between individual lions, different prides, and even different species.
Individual lions can be identified from unique markings like scars, manes, whisker spot patterns or tooth erosion (if you're lucky enough to grab that shot!). This information gets logged in a "Lion Database" to help us know who's who and who's with what pride during visual surveys and population monitoring.