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Lions are beautiful, but small carnivores also need compassion

South tourists visit the wildlife sanctuaries of South Africa to see lions and leopards, not moths and lizards.

In response to this commercial pressure, the managers of these parks tend to prefer these larger, charismatic predators. Although more than 30 carnivorous species in South Africa play an important role in their ecosystems, controlling the population of game species, which in turn affects plant communities, managers, if any, care less about protecting them.

The assumption is that adding lions to the top of the food chain long ago would have resulted in a healthy population of these other carnivores, and any efforts to protect large predators such as lions would automatically help small ones. However, scientists have no evidence that these predictions play a role in the real world, especially in small reserves found in South Africa.

A study published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B earlier this month shows that the dynamics are more complex than previously thought. Although the presence of lions slightly increases the number of small carnivores living in the area, it reduces their overall range.

“We can not just assume that when the lions succeed, they will have umbrella benefits for all biodiversity,” said Gonzalo Kverveira-Santos, PhD candidate in conservation biology at the University of Lisbon. “Apex predators are very interactive in the ecosystem. We need to better consider their ecological effect.”

Many wildlife sanctuaries in South Africa are former livestock farms that have been converted to ecotourism. In the presence of lions, they are usually reintroduced.

“We are not talking about pristine landscapes where lions roam free,” said Kurveira-Santos. “We are talking about small, fenced-in sanctuaries where lions are placed after severe landscaping.”

After the reopening, managers tend to invest significant amounts of և effort to maintain lion populations, including poaching patrols, հեռ regularly removing wildlife from local communities.

Curveira-Santos: and his colleagues wanted to see what effect these actions had on carnivorous species weighing less than 44 pounds. They focused on 17 reserves in the Limpopo-Kwazulu-Natal states of South Africa, about half of which were returned to lions. They used camera-trap data collected by the Panthera Conservation Team to estimate the number of small carnivorous species in each reserve and to calculate their presence.

Researchers have identified 22 small carnivorous species in the reserves, ranging from lateral striped jackals to rogue mongooses to bat-eared foxes. They found that the total number of species in lion stocks was slightly higher, but that lions reduced the number of carnivores in that small area by an average of about 30%.

Curveira-Santos says it is clear that lions affect the distribution of these small carnivores.

“The question is, is this the natural role of preserving something good, or is it a negative one because we do it in a very artificial way?” he said.

It may be that there are fewer individual carnivores because lions kill or otherwise oppress them, he said, or lions force small carnivores out of fear of certain areas, or both. The team can not say whether this dynamic affects the ecological role of small carnivores. More research will be needed, but if smaller predators are killed by lions or confined to areas where large cats do not encroach, it can lead to a decline in the population of these species, creating an imbalance for other animals and plants.

Kelly Anne Marnewick, a non-research carnivorous animal at Tshwane University of Technology in South Africa, said the recovery of lions in these South African reserves was valuable, and predators were now considered a “minimal concern” for conservation. goals:

“Nevertheless, we need to focus on the results of this paper to conduct a direct study to ensure that we have enough information to adapt to a more holistic approach to governance for the benefit of the entire ecosystem,” he said.

As a result of further research, Curveira-Santos և its partners hope to find out how much there is a correlation between the commercial interests of the ecotourism industry և the ecological interests of the conservative community և.

“We are just beginning to understand the complexity and dynamics of the diversity of carnivorous communities,” he said. “More research is needed before we can say how well management and maintenance priorities are aligned.”


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