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    An evaluation of large carnivore translocations into free-range environments in Namibia

    Weise, Florian Johannes (2016) An evaluation of large carnivore translocations into free-range environments in Namibia. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    Around the world, large carnivores are involved in human wildlife conflict by killing livestock or compromising peoples’ safety. This results in widespread lethal persecution that contributes to carnivore population declines. Alternatively, translocation of so-called ‘problem animals’ is an often-used approach to resolve conflict non-lethally. However, translocations are rarely assessed in terms of their capacity to reduce conflict or their biological and financial implications. This study evaluates the efficacy of this strategy by investigating 22 intensively monitored translocations that were carried out into free-range environments in Namibia between 2008 and 2012. Translocations involved 23 cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) (plus 10 dependent offspring), six leopards (Panthera pardus) and one brown hyaena (Parahyaena brunnea). Translocation objectives included conflict mitigation and the rehabilitation of confiscated, indiscriminately trapped or orphaned individuals. Study animals were released at an average distance of 404.3 km (47 – 816 km) following captive periods ranging from 1 – 1,184 days. Using survival, livestock predation and homing as key measures of translocation success one year post-release, out of 27 individuals with known outcomes, 44.4% were successful. Success was higher for leopards (67%) than for cheetahs (40%), which were particularly unsuccessful if they habituated to human presence during prolonged captivity. Human-induced mortality accounted for most deaths in year one (58%; 10 cheetahs, one leopard, and the hyaena). Translocation success did not differ significantly by sex (M: 39%; F: 50%) or between hard (47%) and soft releases (40%). Regardless of species, release mode and recipient area size, all carnivores displayed extensive post-release movements ranging beyond protected area boundaries, but only two cheetahs returned to their capture site. Most animals that survived the first year successfully reproduced (five leopard cubs, 14 cheetah cubs) and settled into permanent ranges. Following an initial period of orientation and exploration, the ecology of translocated large carnivores reflects that of resident conspecifics. Only three case studies resulted in post-release conflict, but translocations did not resolve conflict on source properties permanently, leading to repeat requests for carnivore removals by those land managers. A farmland survey (26,090 km2, n = 221 respondents) demonstrated that conflict with, and persecution of, large carnivores remain widespread, suggesting a high potential demand for carnivore translocations. However, release area suitability modelling across Namibia’s protected area network showed that only a few public or private reserves can potentially accommodate individual cheetahs and leopards. Translocations are also costly, with a total expense of $80,681 in this study ($269 – $7,559 per individual). The main cost factor was tracking technology (56%). Adjusted to account for failed events, the successful translocation of one large carnivore cost $5,983 (adjusted median) and 65% of all costs were recuperated from public support. Translocations can successfully conserve individual carnivores and help supplement low-density populations locally. However, due to its limited success, associated costs, and a high degree of variability in terms of outcomes, the strategy is not a feasible standard response to human-carnivore conflict. It is best reserved as a last-resort tool for the selective management of few individuals from highly endangered species. Where it is necessary, rigorous candidate and recipient area selection can improve outcomes significantly. Wildlife managers should predominantly aim at improving tolerance of large carnivores in unprotected, multi-use landscapes, thereby reducing the number of indiscriminately captured animals.

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