Gonarezhou Predator Project

AWCF established the Gonarezhou Predator Project in 2009 in response to concerns over the Park’s severely depleted carnivore populations. The focal species are lions and African wild dogs, but all large carnivores are monitored and protected.

Bordering the international boundary with Mozambique, and only 50km from the South African border, Gonarezhou National Park is of critical importance to the greater conservation landscape of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area. At 5,000km2 (or 1.2 million acres), Gonarezhou National Park should be able to support good populations of endangered and vulnerable species of large carnivores. The Gonarezhou Predator Project was established to ensure that potential was fulfilled.

The Project is carried out in partnership with the Gonarezhou Conservation Trust, and is based at Chipinda Pools in the beautiful Gonarezhou National Park.

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Through research and monitoring, the AWCF was able to determine what was keeping the carnivore populations so supressed, and instigate methods and programs to address the threats and problems.

The team began work in 2009, carrying out annual spoor surveys to pick up on population trends of these species. Direct monitoring of certain species, collation of tourist data and ranger sightings and comprehensive park-wide call-up surveys conducted in 2012 and 2016, all contributed to a better understanding of the park’s large carnivores.

Identified threats for lions included over-hunting in the concessions surrounding the park, retaliatory killings for livestock attacks outside the park and a severely depleted prey base within the park, largely due to bushmeat poaching. For wild dogs, the main problem was lack of prey. Together with the ZPWMA and FZS, we instigated programs to address these threats, including a moratorium on lion hunting in the area until the population recovered, antipoaching (headed by FZS and PWMA) and a human-wildlife conflict mitigation program.

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These efforts have been successful: since 2009, the populations of all large carnivores in the park have more than doubled, with lions and wild dogs showing an exponential increase until recently when the growth started to slow naturally.

We are pleased to say that the Gonarezhou National Park now supports over 120 lions (up from just 31 in 2009), several hundred leopard and spotted hyenas, and a healthy population of around 12 packs of endangered African wild dogs (up from only a handful in 2009).

The AWCF team has removed wire snares from numerous wild dogs necks, legs and waists but this poaching method continues to be a scourge.  Nonetheless, we have a full time presence in the park, constantly finding and checking the wild dogs and other large carnivores, so that timeous intervention to remove snares or treat other injuries can be done when required.  This long term monitoring also serves to evaluate the effectiveness of our suite of conservation efforts.

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