In addition to camera-trapping, we are working with colleagues both within and outside Ruaha National Park in order to collect information from as many carnivore sightings as possible. Understanding the dynamics, distribution, movements and ecology of Ruaha’s vital carnivore populations is extremely important, but our team is too small to collect enough data alone. Therefore, we equip Ruaha National Park lodge drivers with data collection devices and cameras, and they record and report large carnivore sightings to us each month. After one year, as thanks for their help, the drivers get to keep the cameras and we replace them with another one. This initiative has been incredibly valuable, and we have received thousands of sightings, while the drivers have also generously shared their invaluable insights into the behaviour and ecology of Ruaha’s carnivore populations.
This information has been combined with the camera-trapping data to develop the first maps of likely large carnivore distribution across the Ruaha landscape, and to develop the first tentative maps of lion prides around the tourist area of Ruaha National Park. We also share the data with Tanzanian authorities for conservation planning, and the data have contributed to various scientific publications on the ecology of Ruaha’s large carnivores. The success of the sightings programme has been noted by researchers studying elephants and vultures in Ruaha, so now we are collaborating closely with one another – we work together to train and equip the guides, and share the data collected.
The data the drivers provide is incredibly valuable, so we will be continuing and expanding the programme over time, especially as lodges open in new areas of the Park. However, we also need to get information on carnivore presence and movement outside tourist areas, so as we start putting the first satellite collars on lions and spotted hyaenas around Ruaha, so we can collect that information and use it to inform future conservation plans.