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Research is key to sustain balance of Ecosystem in Addo

With the introduction of large predators in 2003, Addo Elephant National Park not only became a haven for the Big Seven but a more dangerous place for the resident herbivores.

Kudu, red hartebeest, ostrich, warthog and the largest herd of disease-free Cape buffalo in South Africa have had to become more vigilant to lions and spotted hyena on the prowl. Four years down the line, lions and hyenas have increased their numbers and consequently it has become important to determine exactly what effect these predators are having on prey species.

As a result, Dave Druce, a post-doctoral researcher affiliated to the Centre for African Conservation Ecology (ACE) at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, is conducting an 18 month long study to determine the prey selection of lions and hyenas. Having started in September of this year, Druce will also be looking at the behaviour, social interactions and habitat use of both the lion and hyena population as well as those of the Cape Buffalo.

"At the moment I am spending three days a week following a pack of lions or individual lions for at least 8 hours a day. I usually follow them in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon towards evening, while they are at their most active. Radio collars on buffalos are instrumental in tracking herds and determining the survivorship of individuals. I further rely heavily on the remains of skeletons and faecal samples of lion and hyena to indicate what species are being killed by these predators,” says Druce.

Eveready (Pty) Ltd, South Africa’s largest battery manufacturer is contributing to the success of the study. The environmentally conscious company is endorsing the project by sponsoring the batteries needed for equipment such as the GPS, radio tracking devices and rangefinders. In addition, Eveready will be providing Druce with other equipment, including torches and spotlights, without which tracking at night would be impossible.

Eveready’s Environmental Manager, René van der Merwe, said that Eveready’s commitment to the preservation of the environment not only involves the management of waste and emissions, but also supporting sustainable environmental management programmes and research. It is an honour for Eveready to be associated with the research undertaken by Druce at the Addo Elephant National Park, said Van der Merwe.

Addo Elephant National Park spokesperson, Megan Taplin said "Research that will provide us with information about the prey selection of key predators is vital to ensure that we make the correct management decisions in the Park. We need to ensure that we conserve a balanced, natural ecosystem and hence it is important to determine how lions and hyenas are affecting the system, as well as whether prey species such as buffalo have adapted to the predation risk”.

Druce will also determine spotted hyena numbers by monitoring their den sites in the Park. He said each hyena has a distinctive coat pattern, which allows them to recognise individuals once photographs have been taken of each side of the body.


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