Surveying Local Communities for Lion Presence
by Lisanne Petracca -- August 25th, 2010
So, at this point you hopefully know that we came to the Tete Province in Mozambique to do a lion survey for National Geographic. We knew that the area’s miombo woodland ecosystem was too unproductive to support many lions, so how could we find the few lions that were there? We had two main strategies: (1) call-up stations (see Megan’s great blog!), and (2) interviews with local communities. Since the call-up stations turned out to be a bit of a bust, the interviews turned out to be really critical for our analysis.
The interviews were my favorite part of the fieldwork experience. The Mozambican villages were generally comprised of about 20 huts made of mud and thatch, and the people were busy tending to their fields of corn, beans, sugarcane, cassava, and sweet potato. They either spoke Portuguese or a dialect of the Bantu language, and luckily our translator knew both (and English, of course!).
A morning in Zambue village.
And how can I forget the kids? Since some areas of the Tete Province are unbelievably remote, many children had never seen a white person in all their lives! Our translator said that some of them were yelling, “White people! It’s true!,” and most proceeded to just stare at me, and even touch my hair. If we happened to be taking an interview break in the car, the kids would make a crowd about five children deep around the vehicle. And they would just stare and stare. After an hour, they would still be there, staring quizzically at my “strange” facial features. Now I know what it feels like to be a zoo animal.
Children gather eagerly around Megan.
The interviews lasted about 45 minutes each, and we asked the people general questions about themselves (where they traveled to, what crops they grew, etc.) before getting to the more “relevant” questions about wildlife. The villagers really enjoyed the wildlife section. Thanks to our artist-in-residence, Megan Cattau, we had a fantastic poster with pictures of our 14 species of interest. For each species we asked whether the person had seen it recently, where he/she saw it, and how frequently he/she would see it. We included the lion, some prey species (such as the kudu and bushpig), and other species that could be in the area (buffalo, elephant). The most interesting part for me was including two species that definitely did NOT live there (the brown bear and Cape fur seal) to test the person’s credibility as a “truthful” interviewee. Luckily, not a SINGLE person lied and said they had seen a Cape fur seal around the village or on the way to their fields, which hopefully meant that our data was pretty reliable!
An interview in progress.
Our final section asked about human-lion conflict. We asked about the numbers of livestock that had been lost to disease and livestock, and then asked what animals were responsible for killing their livestock and why. We found that disease was a much bigger livestock killer compared to predators. However, our most interesting finding was that, of the people who had lost livestock, lions were most commonly implicated! This means that the lion is a major livestock predator, which could lead to retaliatory killings that threaten the region’s lion population.
Some cattle, luckily fenced in and protected from lions.
It was clear that lions were a SERIOUS problem in a village called Campoco. In the interview, the man said that people in the village no longer left their huts after 5 pm because they were afraid of being attacked by lions! We also saw multiple lion prints from an attempted attack on cattle by two hungry lions. Luckily, the cattle were surrounded by a fence, which ended up saving their lives.
Lion tracks that we spotted right next to fenced-in cattle.
It is unfortunate that these people have to live with such fear of predators (and not just lions… spotted hyenas and leopards too), and that they are unable to do anything to control it. The Government of Mozambique forbids the local people from using weapons to defend their livestock, their crops, and ultimately their lives. It is believed that the nearby hunting concessions will rid the landscape of these “problem” animals, but in so many cases this does not happen.
There I am, hanging out with some Mozambican children.
Human-wildlife conflict is a complicated issue with no simple solution, and the increasing human population of the Tete Province is likely to exacerbate the existing struggle. In a world where people push for both community development and wildlife conservation, how can we mend the two when they are at odds with each other? Food for thought, I guess…