Factors affecting the distribution and abundance of carnivores and their ungulate prey across a communally owned rangeland in Kenya
Schuette, Paul Anthony
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Carnivore and native ungulate populations are in decline inside and outside of government-protected areas in Africa due to habitat fragmentation, conversion of rangeland to farmland, and conflict. Though government-protected areas are an important component of conservation and management policy, it is also important to include landscapes that vary in their degree of protection and human land use. These mixed-use landscapes may provide valuable insight into patterns that promote coexistence among carnivores, native ungulates, and people. From 2008-2011, we examined distributions and abundances of carnivores and their ungulate prey across a communally-owned rangeland in the southern Rift Valley of Kenya. Here, the local Maasai community moves seasonally with their livestock across areas set aside for human settlement, livestock grazing, and a community conservation area. Camera surveys revealed a diverse carnivore community (21 species), which includes all native apex carnivores. Occupancy models revealed patterns of spatial and temporal niche partitioning in response to environmental conditions and anthropogenic pressures. Apex carnivore and native herbivore occupancies were sensitive to the proximity of water, the dry season, and distance to human settlements. In general, most carnivore and native herbivores responded to some form of human land use. Animal counts and distance sampling indicated livestock densities were nearly three times higher than total native ungulate densities, however, native ungulate densities were comparable to many government-protected areas. Selection of different habitats and land use types promoted coexistence between domestic and native ungulates. Zebra, wildebeest, and cattle (obligate grazers) densities were sensitive to a severe drought, but only wildebeest failed to rebound to pre-drought levels the following year. Behavioral follows of radio-collared lions (4F, 2M) revealed a local lion density of 0.136 individuals/km ², comparable to many government-protected areas. Lion groups altered their space use in response to seasonal movements of people, a pattern that likely explains low levels of local conflict. Overall, the combination of an unfenced, heterogeneous landscape and a land use system based on temporary settlements, seasonal grazing areas, and a community conservation area, allows apex carnivores, a diverse carnivore community, and their native ungulate prey to coexist at high densities with people and livestock.