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Lions, Leopards and Wilddogs of the Gorongosa-Marromeu Ecosystem

July 9 2018
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Putting elusive lion, leopard and wilddog populations on the conservation radar in the Gorongosa-Marromeu Ecosystem of Mozambique - Africa.

July 9 2018

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Mission Underway

Two cool papers published this year, one just this week. Check them out:


  1. Post-war recovery of the African lion in response to large-scale ecosystem restoration - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006320718301642

and

  1. Climate change, disease range shifts, and the future of the African lion - https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2018/03/01/coexistence-with-lions-the-climate-change-factor/
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It's a special time of year in Gorongosa, the wildfires are wide-spread and the air is heavy with their scent. But September is also the time of mass tree flowering and the forest floor and roads are scattered with wildflowers of all colors and shapes raining down from the canopy. As we drive up and down through the night seeking out our elusive wilddogs and leopards, the mix of the scent of smoke and wild gardenia blossoms is an intoxicating combination.


To reach our remote camera traps, we traveled a good six hours - on verrrrry rough and rugged roads. The cameras are setup as part of an all-road sweep to document as many leopards (and other carnivores) as we can. This will be the first such assessment ever done in the Gorongosa-Marromeu Ecosystem outside of the Park. Best part is that we got to test-out our new Land Cruiser taking her on her first voyage in to the Inhamitanga forests to support our carnivore recovery in this remote wilderness- thank you National Geographic!

We finally got to check in on our first array of 30 cameras set up on July 4th and set up to survey for leopards along some of the major roads in these forests. Two long months of waiting! And we were rewarded not just with multiple leopards, but few cool surprises including the first visual documentation of Spotted Hyaena - YES! And a few encounters with the lovely Crawshay Zebra sub-species.

We deployed another 3 new arrays (30 cams total) all on new roads. In total we are aiming to cover over 100-km of dirt track before year-end in our search for these precious cats. Can't wait to see what we find next!

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The Inhamitanga sand forests are magical and the African Ant Bear is not uncommon here. As we search through the forests for Wilddog denning sites we often come across the burrows of these "Bears."

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Delightful photo, Paola. What a beautiful animal.

Preparation Stage

We placed a camera trap alng a dense forest pathway, and laced it with Wilddog poop we found on the road earlier that day (after we took a sample for genetic analysis, of course)... and this is what we got! Alpha of the Wilddog Pack approached the camera, she's very thin and clearly lactating, which means she has just recently dropped her pups.

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In 2017, the Gorongosa Project forged a historic agreement with a neighboring hunting concession (called Coutada 12) to end trophy hunting and take over management of this 2,800 km2 area thereby expanding the boundaries of - and almost doubling the size of - Gorongosa National Park. Coutada 12 is home to gorgeous sand forests and to remnant, indigenous populations of leopard and wilddogs, among other cool wildlings. This is a vast and still very wild ecosystem.


This week we launched a 6-month, Coutada-wide sweep to identify as many leopards as we can using remote trail cameras. This would be the 1st survey to attempt to estimate how many of these cats there actually are in this ecosystem. Already we are picking up some of these stealthy cats, and in 6 years of working in GNP I actually saw my first real-life leopard 2 nights ago! Catching them on cams is always a gift, but seeing a leopard in dense forest at dusk took my breath away. An yup, we actually got stalked by one such leopard-ess the next day as we set up additional trail cams - the best part of that being, we collected a healthy (very fresh) sample of her scat for genetic analyses.

Part of our team includes Mercia Angela (a wildlife vet in-training from Maputo, on L) and Victoria Duke (a Duke University student testing WildTrack identification software for leopards here, on R).

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Expedition Background

Very little is known about indigenous populations of lion, leopard and wilddogs in the Gorongosa-Marromeu Ecosystem of Mozambique. Our project strives to change that by documenting these elusive and highly threatened populations and putting them on the conservation radar. Our team is 99% Mozambican and is made up of ecologists, wildlife veterinarians and wildlife rangers.


We spent the last 6 years focused on documenting and recovering a population of indigenous lions in Gorongosa National Park. Now we're expanding to work with even more elusive leopards and wilddogs - we know they're out there, we just have to find them and take urgent steps towards their immediate protection.

We will pair traditional tracking techniques working on-the-ground with experienced rangers and state-of-the-art technology such as satellite collars, rugged field tablets, and remote field-cameras.

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This is awesome Paola! Looking forward to following along.

This is a great action Paola!