Wildlife conservation is at the heart of Taronga Western Plains Zoo and Carnivore Keeper Linda Matthews witnessed this first hand on a recent fellowship trip to Botswana.
Linda had the chance to see the work happening on the ground by the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust in the preservation of the five large carnivore species: Cheetah, Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyena and African Wild Dog.
“Working closely with Cheetahs and African Wild Dogs, I was so excited to have the opportunity to see them and the other carnivores in their natural habitats, and to monitor their day to day life and the challenges they face,” said Linda.
Botswana Predator Conservation Trust researchers are looking at ways to reduce conflict between predators and man.
“Lions, for example, may wander into farming areas and target livestock for food. Humans, in their effort to protect their families and livestock may shoot to kill them,” said Linda. “Researchers are experimenting with scent marking and chemical communication to analyse the messages in urine. They aim to create an artificial or synthetic scent which would act as an invisible barrier, keeping predators on one side and livestock and humans safe on the other.”
Assessing an individual and/or group health status is a major part of the Trust’s monitoring program.
Linda reports that early starts and long days are spent tracking for collared animals. The tracking equipment is programmed with each unique collar signal and, after finding the collared individual, researchers download the information to look at what movements the animals have made, types of habitats preferred and patterns in territory overlapping.
“Being able to get quite close to some of these amazing species was really an eye opener as they still are ‘wild’ in every sense of the word,” said Linda.
Botswana’s harsh environment can be very hard on animals, but Linda was lucky to see plenty of thriving species, with numerous offspring witnessed amongst carnivores and herbivores alike.
“Every turn made I was constantly reminded that we were in Africa,” said Linda. “Having the opportunity to help the dedicated team there was truly a rewarding experience and one I’ll never forget”.