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Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Kgalagadi Lion Project

FIELD OPERATIVES: Otto and Maya Beukes are studying the lion population in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park FIELD OPERATIVES: Otto and Maya Beukes are studying the lion population in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

A groundbreaking project that will reveal critical information on the activities of the lion population in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park has received top honours at the Annual South Africa Wildlife Management Conference that took place in Kimberley this year.

Husband and wife team, Maya and Otto Beukes, who are spearheading the project, presented papers on their findings and were awarded first and second prizes in the Hounours and Master students presentation category.

This Kgalagadi Lion Project forms part of the duo’s Masters Research in the field of Nature Conservation and is collaboration between CPUT, and the South African National Parks.

The project was initiated after a survey conducted in the park, which straddles the border between South Africa and Botswana, found a skewed sex ratio in favour of lion males which could result in a collapse of the park’s lion population.

Their study aims to understand the dynamics of lion demography, as well as the drivers and limiting factors thereof, which plays a critical role in informing management decisions.

Otto says the fieldwork part of the study took 26 months and took place between May 2013 and June 2015.

“For the first time, an attempt was made to locate and identify all the lions within the population,” says Otto.

“A combination of opportunistic encounters, tracking, call-up stations and following of five collared females were used to maximise lion encounter rates. Once found, lions were aged, sexed and their whisker spot patterns discerned with the help of 500 mm telephoto lens photography.”

After 24 months of fieldwork a total of 48 666 km were travelled in the park over 311 sample days, while 322 lion sightings were made comprising 1 162 individuals.

Otto, who clinched second prize for his paper, says it was the first time they attend and presented at the conference.

img-The-Kgalagadi-Lion-Project-2

Maya took first prize for her paper titled, “Spatial and temporal variation of lion (Panthera leo) diet within the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park” while Otto presented on the “Demographic characteristics of lion (Panthera leo) in the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park”.

“The highlight of the conference was being able to interact with other scientists and students who share a common love not only of wildlife but also of the process of learning to understand nature intimately,” he says.

“Obviously, having our work recognized by peers and winning first and second place for the masters presentation category reminded us how important the work is that we are doing.”

Otto says they are now in the process of finalizing their findings and writing their MTech theses.

The project is supervised by CPUT’s Dr Frans Radloff and SANParks Dr Sam Ferreira.

If you would like to find out more about the project, please contact Maya or Otto Beukes: info@kalaharilions.co.za.

You can also find updates on their Facebook page or on www.kalaharilions.co.za

Written by Candes Keating

Tel: +27 21 959 6311
Email: keatingc@cput.ac.za

Provides coverage for the Engineering and Applied Sciences Faculties; the Bellville and Wellington Campuses, and research and innovation news.