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Tracking lions in Tanzania

Satellite radio collars provide valuable insight to help protect lions in Tanzania’s Ruaha landscape

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Lion in Ruaha National Park

Ever wonder about the secret life of lions in Tanzania’s remote Ruaha landscape? Us, too. The lion population in Ruaha is a vital one as one of only six large populations remaining in Africa, and one of the least understood in terms of range patterns, group dynamics, and mortality.

Well, good news! Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s partner in lion and cheetah conservation, the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP), recently satellite collared four lions to help better understand their ecology and distribution, and consequently, how to better protect them. While lions have been studied extensively, information collected within an individual population – or place – does not necessarily apply to the species as a whole. The collaring of these lions represents a critically important step in protecting them in Ruaha. Dr. Amy Dickman, RCP’s founder and Director, was one of the Zoo’s first conservation field partners and has successfully reduced lion killings by nearly 80% in Ruaha through engaging local communities in conservation activities and providing benefits and programs to those that participate.

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Dr. Amy Dickman of the Ruaha Carnivore Project inspecting lion tracks in the wild

The collars used by the RCP team weigh less than 1% of even a small lion’s total body weight. They use satellite communication and have a VHF backup to ensure that data is collected continuously. Permitting specified that the team could collar lions within Ruaha National Park boundaries, but they aimed to find individuals close to the borders of this protected area to gain insight into lion movement and distribution, behavior, and threats both inside and outside of the national park.

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One of RCP's collared lions

Data is already starting to come in from the collared lions; the RCP team will use this data to inform its conservation action plan, as well as share it with Ruaha National Park Authorities and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. This information will fill a major need for those crafting holistic conservation strategies, which might include increased monitoring or protection in vulnerable areas, and hopefully, further collaboration between organizations working to protect lions and other large carnivores.

As a key supporter of RCP, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo has the honor of calling one of these collared lions ‘our own’. F1 – the first female collared – is a member of the Bushbuck pride, one of the largest in Ruaha National Park. She likes to hang out around where the Ruaha and Mwagasi rivers meet. Data collected from F1’s collar will help us to better understand the spatial ecology and dynamics of this valuable pride through the wet and dry seasons.

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Data from lion F1 in Ruaha National Park

Big news! Dr. Dickman will visit us in April to announce the name of our collared lion. She’ll also join us at Party for the Planet on Saturday, April 21st to chat and answer questions about her work protecting lions in Tanzania. Look for ‘Conservation Hero chats’ on the schedule at the lion exhibit that day.

It’s so cool to see such a tangible output come from the financial support that Cleveland Zoological Society donors and the Zoo provide for this critical work. We look forward to following all four lions collared in Ruaha National Park, and seeing how RCP and its collaborators use the insights gained to better protect lions in the Ruaha landscape.

Images courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project

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