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Making a sound barrier

Making a sound barrier

After losing 2 out of 3 cubs, a female lion carries her daughter
After losing 2 out of 3 cubs, a female lion carries her daughter


By: GEOFF GILFILLAN - PhD Candidate, University of Sussex

The African lion plays a fundamental and important role in regulating the natural processes within many African ecosystems. It is also a lynchpin of a healthy wildlife eco-tourism industry.

The Botswana Predator Conservation Trust (BPCT) has been monitoring lion in the southeastern Okavango Delta since 2007. With detailed behavioural observations and GPS radio-telemetry collars to continuously track their movements, researchers have focused primarily on how the other large carnivore species coexist with the larger and more dominant lion. BPCT also operates a livestock insurance scheme with local communities surrounding the study area, which helps to promote livestock husbandry practices that reduce human–carnivore conflict.

Since the beginning of 2014, I have been conducting my postgraduate research in collaboration with the BPCT and the University of Sussex, UK. Our focal study population currently comprises four prides of females who are attended periodically by two different male coalitions.

My research is focusing on lion acoustic and olfactory communication and involves a variety of field experiments. I am particularly interested in what information is conveyed by their long-distance calls (‘roars’). Lion prides, and their male coalitions, maintain territories that are defended against rivals, and they use long-distance roars to advertise their presence in a given area.

The majority of my fieldwork involves conducting acoustic playbacks of known lions to focal individuals to investigate by their behaviours whether they identify individuals based on their roars, and to what extent they are able to assess the number of rivals based on hearing multiple roars.

The overarching mission of the BPCT is to conduct behavioural studies to inform conservation actions. As they are a territorial species, it may be possible to discourage lion from entering and hunting in areas where they are unwanted by mimicking the presence of other, potentially more intimidating, lion.

Thus, results from my research are fundamental to understanding whether broadcast lion roars might be used as an effective conservation tool that will help move lion away from livestock areas and back into protected areas such as Moremi Game Reserve.

As such, I am investigating the potential for developing an acoustic lion bio-barrier (an extension of the BPCT’s scent based bio-boundary for the African wild dog) to reduce conflict with cattle farmers and avoid the need for lethal control.

Whilst my research is forming the basis for understanding the important elements for such a tool, future research by BPCT researchers will aim towards implementation of an acoustic bio-barrier.