Discovering tomorrow

Centre for African Conservation Ecology

Predator-Prey Interactions: Carnivore-Buffalo Project in the Addo Elephant National Park

Craig Tambling

·         The expansion of the Greater Addo Elephant National park has coincided with the reintroduction of large apex predators onto the landscape following an absence of over 100 years. With this reintroduction, comes the added complexity that park management now faces in terms of how do the reintroduced predators and locally naïve prey species interact. A prime example of when this understanding was necessary occurred when lions started killing buffalo more often than was expected by park management following their reintroduction.

·         Buffalo in the Addo Elephant National Park are important both from a tourism perspective as they make up one of the big seven, but also from a financial revenue perspective as they make up part of the live game sales each year. The financial importance of the buffalo stems from the fact that the Addo buffalo population was one of the few remaining disease free populations. Thus, when lions started killing buffalo more than was initially expected, park management were faced with a quandary between respecting the natural process that they were trying to re-establish in Addo and separating valuable buffalo from lions.

·         The Centre for African Conservation Ecology, in collaboration with SANParks and the World Bank, set-up a long term research project in 2007 that would investigate the co-existence of buffalo and lion within the fenced confines of Addo. Following an initial teething period, a period of intensive monitoring was conducted whereby buffalo were tracked at all hours of the day, and lion were tracked to assess what they were eating. We focused on two aspects of buffalo behaviour, namely group size and habitat use, that we expected to be altered in response to lion predation. In order to assess whether or not these behavioural mechanisms were successful, we investigated total population size and the percentage of juveniles in the population as metrics of buffalo performance in the face of lion predation. This research has now been ongoing for six years and has tracked numerous management interventions that could have influenced the relationship between buffalo and lions.