Weekly Update: African Buffalo Project in Tanzania

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In August, SCI Foundation partnered with the Wildlife Health Center at the University of California, Davis (WHC) to investigate the decline of African buffalo in Ruaha National Park (RNP), Tanzania. The extent of the decline is not yet understood.

African buffalo, or Cape buffalo, are an important wildlife species for the game reserves and both commercial and local community owned safari companies generate substantial revenue from buffalo hunting. Since the livelihoods of Tanzania’s people hinge on sustainable buffalo populations, much of these revenues are applied towards the conservation of buffalo and their habitats. .

The goal of the project is to determine the extent and cause of the buffalo decline and identify ecological drivers for buffalo movements and behavior. The project is monitoring health and movement of buffalo throughout the year. This study will help researchers identify areas of increased risk for contact with livestock and poaching.

To date, Drs. Annette Roug and Deana Clifford, the Health for Animals and Livelihood Improvement project (HALI) and RNP staff conducted their third annual demographic survey of African buffaloes. It appears that there are two large herds and several smaller groups.

By tracking the herds for the past three years, the researchers have found that the buffalo use the same areas from year to year. However, park staff report that the buffalo disappear from the park in the wet season. They are unsure if the animals return with the same herds in the dry season. To investigate this question the researchers have deployed 10 satellite collars to track the buffalo’s movements.

In addition to the locations from the satellite collars, the project will locate all collared buffaloes in the wet and dry seasons, and record the herd sizes to better understand how the herds split and merge over time. In addition, Ruaha National Park field rangers are assisting the project by surveying the buffalo three times each year. These surveys will improve our understanding the behavior of the buffalo herd.

The buffalo will also be monitored for diseases like bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a bacterial disease often found in cattle. There is limited research in the region on bTB and the factors increasing transmission rates. The only available data on bTB in RNP was collected in 2011. Through this project, the WHC seeks to add to the available disease information and examine population dynamics. Understanding the movements and herd dynamics of buffalo will better inform wildlife managers in and around RNP on how to better conserve their buffalo population.  Stay tuned for more updates as this project progresses!

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