Knowledge sharing and skills training is a vital part of improving capacity in conservation. There are many important conservation landscapes with passionate, dedicated staff, but because they are in remote, isolated situations, they often lack the ability to gain new training opportunities. Through our Interns, Mentors and Partners (IMPs) programme, Lion Landscapes is committed to improving reciprocal knowledge exchange in carnivore conservation. This has allowed us to engage with amazing people who are dealing with diverse conservation challenges.
Recently, the Lion Landscapes team in Tanzania recently welcomed Alain Omari from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the project camp near Ruaha National Park, to provide him with training on how to carry out surveys for large carnivores. Alain is an ecologist at Upemba National Park in south-eastern DRC, working in collaboration with Forgotten Parks Foundation. Following a number of reports from their rangers of hearing lions in part of the park, Alain and his team reached out to us to request this training, and will use the new skills he learned to document whether there are lions and spotted hyaena in Upemba.
In his first week with Lion Landscapes, Alain learnt all about our human-wildlife conflict mitigation activities. He joined Lion Defenders Darem and John during their tracking route, where he learnt how to recognize and differentiate the spoor (footprints) of different species of carnivores, including lion, spotted hyaena, and leopard. The Lion Landscapes Research Assistants taught him how to identify individual lions using whisker spots, which we are using to monitor Ruaha’s lions through the guide sightings programme. He also learnt how to collect data using specially-designed software that can be installed on a smartphone or tablet.
In his second week with us, Alain received training in the ecological survey methods our team have been using to assess the status of different large carnivore species in the Selous-Nyerere landscape. The training began with a discussion of the best methods Alain could employ to find lions, and which methods would be most effective and feasible in his specific study site. Together, we developed a survey strategy for him to use on his return to DRC.
That afternoon, Alain also underwent hands-on training on QGIS mapping, in which he learned how to visualise data collected through fieldwork, and how to produce high-quality maps for reporting. He then showcased his new skills by producing a map of Upemba showing the location of a sighting of a shoebill – a rare stork-like bird.
In the evening, the team went out to carry out call-ins, which are used to attract large carnivores – particularly lion and spotted hyaena – close enough that they can be seen and documented. The team selected an open area, mounted speakers onto the roof of the vehicle, and played recordings of prey at full volume (ear plugs are recommended!). Alain clearly brought some good luck on this particular evening: the call-in brought in three lions, including two small cubs, one spotted hyaena, and even one leopard.
The next day, Alain and the ecological team ventured out early to learn how to conduct spoor surveys, which involve driving at low speed along roads and recording animal tracks. Although there had been heavy rain overnight which washed away many tracks, the team nonetheless found spoor of both spotted hyaena and lion, in addition to greater kudu, impala, and bushbuck. Alain correctly identified the carnivore tracks using his training and reference materials, and learnt how to photograph tracks alongside a ruler and GPS with the track coordinates.
On the same morning, Alain was taught how to place camera traps with the goal of photographing lions, and put this training into practice by setting up two cameras in the Lion Landscapes camp. Although we did not find any pictures of wildlife when checking the cameras the following morning – as we expected – we were treated to multiple photos of the camp dogs running around in front of the cameras, and the camp guard conducting his night patrols!
Although it was a relatively short visit, we’re delighted that we were able to expose Alain to so many different large carnivore research methods, as well as giving him the opportunity to see lions in real life. We hope that he will be able to use the new skills and knowledge he gained through this visit to gain the first insights into lion in Upemba. From our end, we learned lots about the challenges of carnivore tracking and conservation in a completely different environment. We intend to stay in touch and continue sharing knowledge to improve the impact achieved by both of our organisations.
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