The dilemma of Lions (Panthera leo) in small reserves
– management consequences

Orla K. McEvoy1, Sam M. Ferreira2, Dan M. Parker1

1Wildlife and Reserve Management Research Group; Department of Zoology and Entomology, Rhodes University, Grahamstown 6140, South Africa.

2Scientific Services, SANParks, Skukuza, 1350 , South Africa.

With the continuing establishment of protected areas and reserves in South Africa, the number of reintroduced lion (Panthera leo) populations is also increasing. Protected areas have experienced varying scales of impacts by reintroduced lions, providing a unique opportunity to research lion behaviour. In large open systems, ecological and lion social factors increase deaths and lower births, resulting in natural, fluctuating lion population parameters. Competition from unknown lions in open systems has been indicated as a key driver behind natural lion grouping behaviour. These mechanisms are degraded in smaller reserves, <1,000km², and managers are forced to actively manage lion populations to stabilize their effect on other species. Management interventions can include contraception, culling and translocation. With empirical evidence scattered and sparse, these methods require further research, raising uncertainties regarding their relative abilities to achieve desired management outcomes. Through a multivariate approach, this project will evaluate current lion management across approximately 30 reserves nationwide. My study will also evaluate a series of predictions on spatial and social grouping behaviour, and investigate their relationship with demographic variations such as population structure, age at first reproduction and survival rate. These data will be used to develop evidence-based management guidelines.