Sze-Wing Yiu conducts research in DGR

Research on predator-prey dynamics in Dinokeng Game Reserve

The reintroduction of lions into Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve in 2011 provided a unique opportunity to do research. Under supervision of Dr.LeszekKarczmarski (The University of the Hong Kong), Dr. Mark Keith (University of Pretoria) and Dr. Francesca Parrini (University of the Witwatersrand), Sze-Wing Yiu conducted her research within DGR looking at the movement and space us of the reintroduced lions and both their habitat use and impact on the herbivores, i.e. vigilance behaviour, movement and area use patterns of the herbivores in DGR. Zebra and Wildebeest were studied as they are the main prey items for lions and will be most likely affected.

The first aspect of the research was to look at the lion behaviour in establishing territories in a new environment and their impact on the existing population of herbivores that have not been exposed to large predators for over 100 years in the area. Understanding the behaviour and how the lions are using Dinokeng were two important aspects in understanding reintroduction and the factors that contribute to their successful introduction into the area. The behavioural decision lions make in how they move through the area, home range establishment, habitat use and activity patterns were known to affect individual fitness and reproductive success and thus their survival probability. Being a predator, the behaviour of lions in turn impacts the movement and foraging of their prey, as well as their survival and population numbers. With high abundances of naïve herbivores and no existing population of predators, a large-scale post-release behavioural study became possible in DGR.

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During the study, C Wing used GPS location data of the reintroduced lions collected by their satellite collars. The lions were observed to give insights for their movement patterns and area use which was in turn related to zebra and wildebeest movement. Surveys of zebra and wildebeest were done and levels of vigilance while foraging were recorded. Population estimates were obtained from seasonal counts throughout DGR. Specialized GPS tags could be employed on wildebeests to collect fine scale movement and area use data.

The information gathered in this research will give insights on how the release of lions and herbivores should be managed in order to maintain the carrying capacity of predators in DGR.

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The results of this research will be posted soon