Marie’s spoor surveys are conducted twice a year over four Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) of the Ghanzi District, in between the dry and wet seasons. During these periods, the animals tend to move more, some of them switching home ranges between seasons. This is therefore a good opportunity to count their spoor (footprints) and get better insights regarding their movements and their relationships to other landscape features such as cattleposts, vegetation and waterpoints.
This year, the spoor survey was planned for mid-May until mid-June. When the lockdown was announced end of March, Marie had some worries that she wouldn’t be able to start her surveys on time and that she would miss some of the wildlife movements. Thankfully, Marie was granted movement permits and was able to start her spoor surveys in early June, only a few week after her original scheduled start date. There was just one problem — “As I looked at the spoor data I collected, the total count was only a quarter of the May 2019 survey. “ she tells us.
The number of large carnivores’ spoor that was counted was no different from the survey conducted last year, but the number of large herbivore tracks counted was much lower. Marie believes that there could be several reasons for this. It is possible that because the survey was delayed, a large number of herbivores might have already moved and therefore were not counted. It is also possible that the herbivore populations underwent a severe decline in the populations due to the drought in the area last year. The data seems to indicate that the abundance of cattle in the area may also have deterred the herbivores from the study sites. “I observed cattle tracks on nearly all my transects this season, which I hadn’t observed during the surveys last year.” Marie said. Marie has hypothesised that the good rains that fell late last year resulted in an abundant production of wild melons across the area. When abundant, wild Tsamma melons can serve as an alternative water source for wildlife and livestock alike. This supply of melons may explain why Marie found non-herded cattle wandering upwards of 50km from the nearest cattle post. These cattle had no only strayed from agricultural areas and into the WMA “buffer zones” but it had taken them right up to the southern, unfenced portion of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve.
Marie’s data also seems to indicate that most large herbivores tended to avoid all areas where cattle were abundant. It’s possible that wild herbivores do this to avoid the ticks and flies that livestock bring along, as well as avoiding the competition for grazing. These data have important ramifications for the management of livestock in these wildlife management areas as presence of livestock can compromise their role as wildlife corridors. Marie suggests that the adverse effects of livestock in the WMAs could be mitigated efficiently by a time-sensitive implementation of cattle herding to avoid encroachment of the cattle into the wildlife areas and also to reduce human-wildlife conflict at the same time.
The consistency and replication of these spoor surveys over seasons are essential to draw out some reliable conclusions on wildlife movements and their interactions with their environment. Marie hopes that the COVID situation will stabilise so that her November survey can be conducted on schedule.