Landscape suitability in Botswana for the conservation of its six large African carnivores
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Wide-ranging large carnivores often range beyond the boundaries of protected areas into human-dominated areas. Mapping out potentially suitable habitats on a country-wide scale and identifying areas with potentially high levels of threats to large carnivore survival is necessary to develop national conservation action plans. We used a novel approach to map and identify these areas in Botswana for its large carnivore guild consisting of lion (Panthera leo), leopard (Panthera pardus), spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta), brown hyaena (Hyaena brunnea), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and African wild dog(Lycaon pictus). The habitat suitability for large carnivores depends primarily on prey availability, interspecific competition, and conflict with humans. Prey availability is most likely the strongest natural determinant. We used the distribution of biomass of typical wild ungulate species occurring in Botswana which is preyed upon by the six large carnivores to evaluate the potential suitability of the different management zones in the country to sustain large carnivore populations. In areas where a high biomass of large prey species occurred, we assumed interspecific competition between dominant and subordinated competitors to be high. This reduced the suitability of these areas for conservation of subordinate competitors, and vice versa. We used the percentage of prey biomass of the total prey and livestock biomass to identify areas with potentially high levels of conflict in agricultural areas. High to medium biomass of large prey was mostly confined to conservation zones, while small prey biomass was more evenly spread across large parts of the country. This necessitates different conservation strategies for carnivores with a preference for large prey, and those that can persist in the agricultural areas. To ensure connectivity between populations inside Botswana and also with its neighbours, a number of critical areas for priority management actions exist in the agricultural zones.
- RESEARCH: Somers M