New Paper Published by Ewaso Lions’ Alayne Oriol Cotterill

Mar 12, 2015 | Categories: Research, Staff | 1 Comment

We are pleased to announce that Alayne – our Research Director – has a published article on lion spatial use in human dominated landscapes. The article appears in the peer-reviewed journal Animal Behaviour.

This work uses GPS technology so see how lions change their movements and activities around people. The results show that where human and livestock densities are relatively low, lions are able to use human occupied areas by adjusting their activities temporally to avoid being detected by people. That is, lions are more likely to be active near people when people are most likely to be asleep. When people are active, lions move away or hide. In this way, lions are able to use resources in human-occupied areas without being detected.

Alayne’s research used GPS collars to show that lion behaviour and activity is greatly influenced by people and livestock.

The bad news from a conservation perspective is that even a location with a very small number of people (e.g. a livestock enclosure with a few people) influences lion behaviour up to 4.5km away, and strongly influences lions up to 1.5km away.

This means that in areas where people are dotted across the landscape, lions are having to make behavioural trade-offs to avoid being detected all of the time. This could affect lion survival by reducing their hunting success and increasing their energy expenditure.

This research indicates that clustering human activities on a landscape, and preserving areas with little human influence as ‘refuge zones’, could really help lions coexist with people.

To download a copy of the article click here: Download PDF

Here is the abstract:

The African lion, Panthera leo, is threatened throughout much of its remaining range by human impacts such as loss of prey, habitat fragmentation and direct human-caused mortality, often in response to livestock predation. Lions’ ability to adjust their behaviour to reduce direct contact with humans may affect their survival. We used fine-scale GPS data to measure lions’ response to humans at two scales: between land use types (commercial ranches versus pastoral lands) and with proximity to human-occupied locations (i.e. livestock enclosures: ‘bomas’) within commercial ranch land. Study lions on commercial ranches reacted to the location and activity levels of humans on the local scale, showing no overall spatial avoidance but fine-scale temporal partitioning in their use of areas in close proximity to bomas, being closest at times when human activity was lowest (i.e. between 2300 and 0500 hours). At the land use scale, however, lions showed significant (but not total) spatial avoidance of pastoral land, despite similar prey densities and habitat structure on both land use types, indicating that lions’ ability to utilize pastoral land was limited by pastoral people. When lions did utilize pastoral land, they were more likely to do so during the dark hours, when people were confined to bomas, than during the daylight hours. Lions moved faster and straighter in pastoral lands and when close to bomas, indicating that they adjust ‘how’ they move in response to humans. They were found closer to bomas with increasing rainfall and decreasing moonlight. Overall, lion movements suggested an ability to partition their activities spatiotemporally with those of humans such that risk of human-caused mortality was minimized while use of a human-dominated landscape was maximized.

Keep watching our website for more of our research results.

Dr. Alayne Cotterill, Ewaso Lions Research Director and author of the new paper, tracks lions equipped with VHF collars in Laikipia, Kenya.

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One Person has left comments on this post

» John Ndiritu said: { Mar 28, 2015 - 03:03:09 }

Interesting to note how wildlife change their behavior to avoid human-wildlife conflict. In studying human dimensions in human-wildlife conflicts, we tend to emphasize the need for best practices and management plans without taking into consideration the temporary and spatial behavior changes practiced by wildlife.

A review of literature in a urban wildlife management finds that coyotes and raccoons are prevalent and occur in higher population densities in urban U.S. cities because they are able to adapt and avoid direct human conflict better than many other wildlife species.

Laikipia and Samburu are definitely facing challenging times especially with the imminent climate change, human settlement and development activities in the upper catchment. I witnessed seasonal and perennial water flow changes of the Ewaso Nyiro River during my 9 years as a water development officer in the region in the 90′s. Within the same period, human settlement dramatically increased causing habitat degradation and fragmentation particularly affecting the large ungulate and predator species of the region.