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Human encroachment in and around ecological networks is a serious threat to ecosystems, wildlife and the communities depending on them. While it has long been recognized as an issue, rigorous studies to evaluate trends and patterns of encroachment are important to guide conservation, management and land-use planning efforts, particularly with respect to corridor and connectivity conservation.
As part of our work in the Greater West Lunga Ecosystem (GWLE), focused on West Lunga National Park and surrounding Game Management Areas, encroachment around the protected area networking in order to delineate existing corridors and identify potential survey areas. Given that no automated programme is able to accurately analyze encroachment in these landscapes, the work has been done by hand and is extremely time intensive.
Nevertheless, in Year 1 we managed to complete a preliminary analysis of the Greater West Lunga Ecosystem, which will be refined and enhanced to assess patterns of encroachment over time,‘hot spots’ as well as natural areas vital for retention.
Of particular interest is the potential for a corridor between the Greater Kafue Ecosystem (GKE) and the Greater West Lunga Ecosystem. While large areas of land between these ecosystems are still relatively intact, the encroachment immediately south of West Lunga National Park, branching out from the main highway, comprises the primary barrier to an intact corridor. There is however still a potentially viable corridor on the south-east of West Lunga National Park. In fact, recently a small herd of elephants were seen within this area between the Greater West Lunga Ecosystem and Greater Kafue Ecosystem.
Following the encroachment analysis of Greater West Lunga Ecosystem, and a compilation of existing knowledge as to the state of the corridor between West Lunga National Park and the Greater Kafue Ecosystem, we decided that the first wildlife survey should focus on the core wildlife area in the landscape, which was in and around the national park. We conducted the preliminary encroachment analysis prior to the survey in order to ensure that transects were not placed in encroached areas and that we placed transects in locations that enabled evaluation of the human and ecological variables most likely to affect the presence, distribution and abundance of species.
As expected, wildlife was not abundant and most species were detected by sign rather than observed, with the low frequencies of detection precluded density estimates given the low sample sizes. Nevertheless, given the conditions a reasonable diversity of species was recorded. In the GMA more species were documented than in the Open Area, but not more than was documented in the National Park. Between the National Park and the GMA, not only were more species found in the National Park, but also the abundance of the species found inside the park is higher. All of these indications are that GMA occurrences and populations are likely to be significantly lower compared to the park.
It is important that future surveys and additional data should increase sample sizes and allow for analyses, however, we also recommend implementing concurrent camera trapping grids that can amass considerable data over a much longer window of time, particularly for carnivores. A combination of ground-based line transects and camera trapping grids would provide a rigorous, repeatable, complementary and data-rich means of monitoring the effectiveness of restoration efforts in the Kabompo.