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Ruaha blog: Updates from the field: The Ruaha Carnivore Project
Author: Amy Dickman, Director, Ruaha Carnivore Project.
Ruaha blog: Updates from the field: The Ruaha Carnivore ProjectAmy Dickman shares the latest news from Ruaha National Park with us below, outlining the challenges faced with operating in the remote vastness of the park, as well as highlighting the excellent work being done by the Lion Guardians and Livestock Guard Dogs. She also shares some fantastic big cat photos taken by guides and visitors to Ruaha.

Challenges for the livestock guarding dog programme:

Our livestock guarding dogs are still doing well, and are now approaching a year old. To date, they have been fed high-protein pellets, which was excellent for ensuring they grew well, but the pellets are imported, hard to get hold of and very expensive. In order to make the programme sustainable in the long-term, it is very important to switch the dogs over to a more local diet. We have started trialling different diets, and initially we wanted to use maize porridge (ugali) mixed with fish, milk and occasionally meat. However, we learned that amongst the Maasai, eating fish (or even handling or cooking it) is often considered taboo, so most of the families would not consider using that. Instead, we are introducing a mixture of ugali, peanuts, milk and meat, and will also add nutritional supplements as needed. This diet is nutritious and affordable for the pastoralist families, but not all the dogs have taken to it well – Shujaa in particular is not eating much of it so is losing some weight, and we are monitoring him closely.

It has become apparent that all the dogs have lost some weight in the past couple of months, and we think this is because in the dry season, the livestock are taken out further to find good grazing, and this is quite taxing for the young dogs. We are working with all the families to ensure that the dogs get regular rest periods each day, receive enough food in the field, and have at least one full rest day a week. They are so large that they seem to the villagers like full-grown dogs, but it is important to remember that they are still young and are not yet able to go out all day every day. The programme is going well, but it highlights how carefully it all needs to be monitored in order to adapt it best for the local situation, both in terms of cultural beliefs and herding practices.

Two lion hunts stopped by Lion Guardians:

Predator-proofing bomas (livestock enclosures) and using livestock guarding dogs are both important methods for reducing depredation and therefore retaliatory carnivore killings. However, some carnivore killings have a cultural element, so that young men can prove their bravery, and this is where the Lion Guardians (LG) programme comes in. In partnership with the main Lion Guardians organisation in Kenya, and Panthera, we have employed and trained young warriors as Guardians around Ruaha in order to intervene and prevent lion hunts that they hear of in the community. This programme had further success this month, when two lion hunts were stopped by the Guardians.

In the first instance, two adult and two sub-adult lions approached livestock during the night at a Barabaig boma, and the men from the household went out to try to hunt them. Kiro, one of the Guardians working in that area responded very quickly and went to meet with them. He talked with the warriors for several hours and eventually persuaded them to give up the hunt, and everyone returned home with no lions being killed.

On another occasion, a single female lion killed two sheep in front of a 15 year- old herder girl. She sounded the alarm and a group of Masaai and Barabaig men scared the lioness away from the sheep and then started to track it. Matias, one of the local Guardians, heard about the incident and went to meet with the group. He managed to talk them out of trying to kill the lion, while two other Guardians (Samora and Julius) arrived soon afterwards and helped remove the sheep carcasses to ensure that no poison was set out after they left.
Although we have had some teething problems adapting the Lion Guardian model to the situation around Ruaha – as local young men here can be very suspicious of any outside intervention – it seems to be working well, and we are now keen to expand our LG zones further across the study area. Promising new Guardians are now being interviewed, with the hope that they will start work in new zones within the next couple of months.

Simply amazing – carnivores in their natural habitat:

Over the past month, RCP staff members have captured some fantastic pictures of lions and other species in the Park. It is always lovely to see these animals, as it reminds us what all the hard work is about – doing everything we can to help secure populations of large carnivores, so that future generations can also experience them out in the wild. Sean McEnery, the Ruaha Lion Guardians manager, took some of the Guardians on an educational trip into the Park, where they were lucky enough to spend time watching a lion pride comprised of three adult males, three adult females and a very playful litter of cubs. The cubs were practising their hunting skills on the lioness’ tails, although they seemed less than impressed with the tastiness of the resulting meal!
Monty Kalyahe, one of our senior research assistants, has also been in the Park working with the lodges and camera-trapping, giving him the opportunity to take some great photos of large carnivores.
Meanwhile, the Park drivers are continuing to collect wonderful photos and data on carnivore sightings, so that we can learn more about carnivore distribution, group size and ecology across the landscape. Recently, Lorenzo Rossi from Asilia Africa’s Kwihala Camp shared some of his photos with us, and they really highlight the value of the Ruaha landscape and its large carnivore populations. Thanks to all the drivers and tourists who submit photos and work with us – it is extremely valuable and we really appreciate it.

Please visit our Ruaha Blog to see the full article with all the amazing and beautiful images of the carnivors of Ruaha and to read other articles that have been posted.