Of teeth and claws

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Taking stock of carnivore research in the Greater Etosha Landscape

The Greater Etosha Landscape (GEL) is host to a wide diversity of carnivores, with an almost complete guild of large carnivores (only the African wild dog is missing). This landscape also exemplifies the situation of many protected areas in the world, with a National Park surrounding by a mosaic of land use types, here communal land to the North and West and private free-hold farmland to the South and East. Carnivore populations are mostly declining through the world, especially large species, and given their importance in ecosystems, a better understanding of the drivers of their distribution and abundance is crucial to their conservation.

The Etosha National Park (ENP) has a long history of research with a dedicated research centre, the Etosha Ecological Institute, located at Okaukuejo since 1967. In a partnership with the EEI, we conducted a literature review and search for any form of output from research conducted on carnivores within a buffer of 50km of ENP. This included scanning online databases of course, but also spending some days in dusty archive rooms at the EEI…

We found that carnivore research started in the 1910s and has steadily increased until the 1980s, with most of the research then conducted by government employees. Since the 1990s, after the independence, the research output somewhat decreased and was mainly conducted by external researchers. The vast majority of research was conducted within the boundaries of ENP and focused on ecological questions rather than being applied. Furthermore, most of the research targeted either large and charismatic (lions, spotted hyeanas and cheetah) or abundant and conspicuous (black-backed jackal) species. Finally, the distribution of research in terms of both topics and species of interest was uneven. For instance, we know quite a lot about lions and cheetahs, but almost nothing about serval and honey badger. Additionally, while some topics were studied in many species (e.g. distribution or population), far less is known about others (e.g. behaviour, reproduction and interaction).

Our synthesis highlights the important role played by political decisions in research direction and output, which has probably caused the decreased of government-lead carnivore research in the 90s. It further shows that we have very uneven knowledge between species and topics, and while some are well studied, we identified many gaps needing to be filled by further research.

Saddle up as we now embark on our long term and large scale Etosha Carnivore Program, also known as carnivores in the GEL!
The results of this study are published in the Namibian Journal of Environment and freely available online here: http://www.nje.org.na/index.php/nje/article/view/volume5-weise