Zambian Biodiversity Project
To explore, document and explain animal biodiversity in Zambia
The Luangwa River originates in the Mafinga Mountains in the northeast of Zambia. It is one of the largest rivers of the country and a tributary to Zambezi. Its valley is 800 km long and 100km wide is one of the most significant wetlands in Africa, representing a refuge for an enormously rich variety of animals and plants. This richness, of elephants and rhinoceroses in particular, also attracted poachers into the valley. The government was powerless to stop the poachers. In the heart of the Valley, between North Luangwa NP and South Luangwa NP, lies the 300km² Luambe National Park. This park became a conservation area in 1938, but until 2002 it was not managed sufficiently and remained untouched by science and tourism. On 26 November 2002, the non-profit organization "Luangwa Wilderness e.V." was founded and took over the management of the National Park by installing a tourist-lodge and infrastructure, and with the declared aim of protecting the wild animal populations and their environment in the park. Yet knowledge of the status of species, their ecology and distribution are prerequisites for the establishment of a long-term Park management plan. To close these gaps in this knowledge the Zambian Biodiversity Project was brought into being.
The mission of this project is to explore, document, and explain animal biodiversity in Zambia, with a geographical emphasis on the Luangwa Valley as part of the African Rift Valley, and especially the Luambe National Park being the centre of the valley. The relatively small size of the park, and hence better overview, guarantees an implementation of the project aims within a foreseeable time span.
The big game species and part of the avifauna of Luambe have already been documented, but many other animal and plant species remain largely unstudied. Endemic subspecies such as Thornicroft's giraffe and Cookson's wildebeest are at home here, as are some endangered species. Other animals that were present in Luambe years ago, like African wild dog, have been almost completely driven out of the Park by poaching activities. Several adult elephants are - by hunting pressure - toothless. Status and numbers of smaller animals like passerines, small mammals, amphibians and reptiles, or insects, as well as plant species, are more or less unknown.
The Leopard Monitoring Project and PhD thesis is part of the "ZamBio. The project deals with leopard population status in the park and in the surrounding Game Management Areas (GMA's) where hunting in limited numbers is allowed and controlled by permits. Its special focus is on the impacts of hunting on the leopard population. The main questions that have to be answered concern the density level of the leopard population, territory sizes, prey spectrum and the gene pool size in both the undisturbed Luambe and the GMA's. Research methods will include radio and GPS-telemetry, digital photo traps, faeces analyses and genetic analyses. Leopards are being trapped and collared and genetic samples taken during trapping. Telemetry of collared individuals allows an estimation of territory size and activity dynamics and provides behavioural data. Do the territory sizes differ between the disturbed and undisturbed areas? Are there huge behavioural differences of leopards between these areas? Analysis of genetic samples will provide gene pool size data and will assist in a population size estimate. Digital photographs taken by photo-traps are utilized to recognize individuals, aiding as well in the determination of density as in population size. The prey spectrum is determined by the abundance of large herbivores and by analyzing leopard droppings. Comparing and contrasting data from the national park and the surrounding GMA's will give an indication of the impact of hunting on population size, distribution, and individual behaviour. Currently, there are no other research projects exclusively targeting leopards in Zambia. Knowledge of a species' ecology and natural history is obviously vital to management and protection of the population. This project will significantly enhance knowledge of leopards in general and in the Luangwa Valley and Luambe in specific.
Also a "Serval Monitoring Project" has been established to study the ecology and status of the Leptailurus serval population of the park. Presently, it is the only existing in situ Serval project. Little is known about these wild cats besides an early 1980s study in Ngorogoro crater, Tanzania. Servals are common wild cats of the savannah, but as they are common, there has been little care directed at their needs, dangers to their living conditions and their habitat. This study depends mostly on telemetry data, as well as genetic data (e.g., hair from hair snares), digital photo library to calculate the actual population size and on Faeces analyses. Besides ecological studies on the Leptailurus serval, the interspecific interaction with other predators (e.g., Lion, Leopard, Hyaena, African Wildcat) is also of importance, just as is the determination of potential conflicts and interactions with humans and/or livestock.
The contribution of the ZFMK is to deliver scientific groundwork as a basis for a management plan conducted by the Luangwa Wilderness e.V.. The knowledge thereby gained will be passed on to local students in cooperation with the University of Lusaka and the Zambian wildlife authority ZAWA. Education programsme prepared for Zambian people are also planned which, under the motto "You only protect, what you know, you only know what you understand, and you only understand what you love", will attempt to change how people think about their environment in order to protect it.
WAZA Conservation Project 07006 is implemented by the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in collaboration with Luangwa Wilderness e.V. and supported by Cologne Zoo, Leipzig Zoo, Zoologische Gesellschaft für Arten- und Populationsschutz, LionsClub, Alexander Koenig Foundation, Alexander Koenig Society, and Serval Portfolio Consulting AG.
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