Wildlife Assessment of Kalahari Ecosystems (WAKE)

Conservation Force is a supporter and partner of the WAKE Project in Kalahari regions of Botswana. Click here for a project description.

 

Southwestern Botswana is a vast wilderness of dry Kalahari savanna, home to a suite of free-ranging large African mammals and a very small human population living in a few scattered settlements. Despite a number of increasing threats to the region, the abundance, distributions, and movements of mammalian wildlife are poorly understood. Further, local economies rely on wildlife almost exclusively through subsistence hunting and gathering and ecotourism including photographic and hunting safaris. Current knowledge of wildlife population trends is based upon surveys conducted from an airplane. Due to poor coverage and numerous visibility biases inherent in aerial surveys, they provide very rough estimates of wildlife populations. All species are undercounted and many species are never detected at all. The prudence principle forces those who set harvest and hunting regulations to be deliberately conservative in their allocations.  In an attempt to pioneer more effective and efficient ways of data gathering, we will test an animal track-based monitoring method with the assistance of local indigenous !Xo Bushman (San) trackers. This method eliminates visibility biases and detects many species not seen during aerial surveys.

 

By coordinating aerial surveys to overlap on-ground track transect surveys we will be able to estimate visibility correction factors (VCFs) to improve population estimates. Abundance indices determined from track counts will also provide a second, robust data set to detect changes in populations through time and by habitat types. With our tracking partners, we will establish and maintain a series of track transects across a large geographic area that will be sampled throughout wet and dry seasons. With these data we will assess relative abundances of Kalahari mammals by habitat type and land use through time, examine annual distributions and movements throughout the study landscape, and characterize community composition and habitat associations of rare and lesser-known species. The potential of this work is not only informing conservation planning and sustainable wildlife use but in collaborating and building capacity within the local community trust to monitor wildlife themselves. This work will help build a foundation for self-sustaining biodiversity monitoring that is relatively inexpensive, practical, scientifically-defensible, and emphasizes existing indigenous tracking skills.