Research

We are currently working with academic institutions and fellow lion conservation organisations on the following research projects. Our focus is to better understand the challenges large carnivores face living in landscapes shared with humans and their livestock. This allows us to inform large carnivore conservation and management in important Lion Landscapes. Lion Landscapes’ role in both these projects is advising on project design, field data collection and management, and assisting with data analysis and publication.

The energetics of African lion living in human

dominated landscapes (Laikipia-Samburu, Kenya)

A large carnivore’s ability to adjust their behaviour to reduce direct contact with people may improve their survival in human-dominated landscapes. Adjusting behaviour (e.g. running away or hiding from people, hunting only at times when people are least active, or avoiding certain high risk areas) to avoid being killed by people will likely have associated costs, however, which affects lion survival indirectly through reducing foraging efficiency and increasing energy expenditure. Ultimately, the behavioural adjustments made by large carnivores in response to human factors may impact ecosystem structure and functioning.

Since September 2014, we have been working as part of a team, including the University of California, Santa Cruz and Ewaso Lions, to collect data to measure how many calories adult male and female lions expend in the course of their average day, sleeping, hunting and travelling; and how these energetic costs are impacted by human activity. In order measure this, we use specially designed GPS accelerometer collars deployed on lions in both Laikipia and Samburu Counties in northern Kenya. This study of the energetics and behaviour of lions in a varied human-dominated landscape provides a mechanistic approach to understanding how anthropogenic changes in the environment are likely to influence lion survival, and the top down structuring of ecosystems. Results will be used to direct conservation activities in the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem, and other lion landscapes.

Dispersal of young adult lions in human dominated landscapes (Laikipia-Samburu, Kenya)

The wide-ranging behaviour of African lions means that their conservation can only be considered on a landscape scale. Current protected areas are not big enough to ensure the survival of the species long-term, and lions share much of their remaining range with humans and livestock. The presence of humans and livestock on the landscape causes lions to make behavioural adjustments (e.g. running away or hiding from people, hunting only at times when people are least active, or avoiding certain high risk areas) to avoid being killed by people that could be energetically costly. These adjustments may be hardest to make for young dispersers, who are often alone, inexperienced, and forced to use sub-optimal habitats with higher human and livestock densities. This study, partnering with the University of California and Ewaso Lions, builds on a large body of lion movement data from adult territorial females in the same human dominated landscape (see above), to look at how the behaviour of young-adult dispersers is impacted by human activities, and identify any special requirements that dispersing lions need. Data will be collected by collaring dispersing young-adults with specially designed GPS accelerometer collars.

While the survival of breeding adults is crucial to lion persistence in an area, dispersing individuals’ successful coexistence with humans is key to maintaining landscape level connectivity. Results from this study will inform the multiple stakeholders in areas important to lion dispersal (from local pastoralists to Kenya Wildlife Service) on managing the distribution of human activities, and resources important to lions (e.g. habitat refuges, water, and prey) thus maximizing the potential for coexistence and maintaining connectivity between breeding sub-populations.