SCI Foundation, in collaboration with the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and the Carnivore Ecology Laboratory (CEL) at Mississippi State University, has begun what will be the most accurate population survey in the history of African lion research. Researchers have recently completed the initial stages of field work in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania.
The Tanzania Lion Project aims to modify and combine existing field techniques and recent modeling approaches to assess lion abundance across a range of population and habitat conditions. “Our goal is to develop an accurate, precise, repeatable, and affordable survey framework that can be used by interested governments to estimate lion abundance and monitor population trends,” said Dr. Jerrold Belant, Principle Investigator and Director of CEL.
The study design accounts for sources of variation in lion abundance not previously considered with traditional call-in and track survey techniques. Researchers have also integrated improved technology by testing the use of filtered spotlights and forward-looking infrared equipment during call-in surveys to compare their effectiveness in detecting lions.
The study also incorporates new variables into a lion abundance model. To produce this innovative model, researchers are merging environmental factors that influence lion occurrence with an additional set of variables that influence the ability to detect lions or lion sign. This rigorous approach will more accurately estimate the probability of lion occurrence and abundance throughout the study area.
Researchers selected Serengeti National Park’s savannas and woodlands for the initial surveys because of known high lion abundance and a rich history of lion population research. This area has a large lion population, as well as excellent accessibility and infrastructure for the scientists and support staff. Tanzania is home to roughly half of Africa’s lions. The plan is to expand the survey efforts into other portions of the country in the coming years. This research will be used to improve the conservation of African lions and their habitat, and promote science-based management decisions.