As the killing of Cecil the lion in the same Hwange area of Zimbabwe showed, they are under threat more than ever before: from hunters, from poachers, and from villagers whose cattle are constantly predated and whose fellow villagers are constantly killed.
The African wild dog has very strong social bonds, stronger than those of sympatric lions and spotted hyenas; thus, solitary living and hunting are extremely rare in the species. It lives in permanent packs consisting of two to 27 adults and yearling pups. The typical pack size in Kruger National Park and the Maasai Mara is four or five adults, while packs in Moremi and Selous contain eight or nine. However, larger packs have been observed and temporary aggregations of hundreds of individuals may have gathered in response to the seasonal migration of vast springbok herds in Southern Africa. Males and females have separate dominance hierarchies, with the latter usually being led by the oldest female. Males may be led by the oldest male, but these can be supplanted by younger specimens; thus, some packs may contain elderly male former pack leaders. The dominant pair typically monopolises breeding. The species differs from most other social species in that males remain in the natal pack, while females disperse (a pattern also found in primates such as gorillas, chimpanzees, and red colobuses). Furthermore, males in any given pack tend to outnumber females 3:1. Dispersing females join other packs and evict some of the resident females related to the other pack members, thus preventing inbreeding and allowing the evicted individuals to find new packs of their own and breed. Males rarely disperse, and when they do, they are invariably rejected by other packs already containing males. Although arguably the most social canid, the species lacks the elaborate facial expressions and body language found in the gray wolf, likely because of the African wild dog's less hierarchical social structure. Furthermore, while elaborate facial expressions are important for wolves in re-establishing bonds after long periods of separation from their family groups, they are not as necessary to African wild dogs, which remain together for much longer periods.
The impact of snaring and human-wildlife conflict (HWC) on large carnivore populations is of growing concern, and yet few empirical data are available. Mortality is the metric most often used, but non-lethal injuries that impact fitness are also important threats. However, because non-lethal injuries to wild carnivores are difficult to detect, they have received little study. Using straightforward forensic examination of the skulls of trophy-hunted lions and leopards from Luangwa Valley (LV) and Greater Kafue Ecosystem (GKE), Zambia, we identified non-lethal injuries consisting of snare damage to teeth and shotgun pellets in skulls. Wire snare entanglement can cause permanent, diagnostic damage to carnivore teeth when individuals bite and pull on the wire. Shotguns are used by poachers, as well as during HWCs to drive off carnivores perceived as threats. Carnivores struck by shotgun pellets can suffer non-lethal, but potentially toxic injuries such as pellets embedded in their skulls. Because poaching and HWC are generally more prevalent near human settlements, we predicted a higher incidence of anthropogenic injuries to carnivores in Luangwa where the human population is larger and more concentrated along protected area edges than Kafue. Contrary to expectation, anthropogenic injuries were more prevalent among lions and leopards in Kafue than Luangwa. Notably, definitive evidence of snare entanglement greatly surpassed previous estimates for these regions. Overall, 37% (41 in 112) of adult male lions (29% in Luangwa, 45% in Kafue) and 22% (10 in 45) of adult male leopards (17% in Luangwa, 26% in Kafue) examined had survived being snared at some point in their lifetime. Among adult male lions, 27% (30 in 112) had old shotgun pellet injuries to their skulls. Our procedure of forensic examination of carnivore skulls and teeth, some of which can be applied to live-captured animals, allows for improved detection of cryptic, non-lethal anthropogenic injuries. Further, our methods represent a consistent and economical way to track changes in the frequency of such injuries over time and between regions, thereby providing a direct measure of the effectiveness of conservation programs that seek to reduce poaching and HWC.
Escalating human-carnivore conflict on the edges of protected areas, where lions are killed in retaliation for predating on cattle, is one factor that may limit genetic flow both to and from the Okavango. Young male lions, whose dispersal is the key to gene flow between different populations, are particularly vulnerable, as they often turn to preying on cattle during this stage of their lives. 2b1af7f3a8