People

Paula White

DirectorZambia Lion Project

Senior Research FellowUCLA Center for Tropical Research

Center for Tropical Research
Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
University of California, Los Angeles

La Kretz Hall, Suite 300
Box 951496
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1496 USA

ZLP Logo

Zambia

Dr. Paula White’s carnivore research in Zambia began with a scouting visit to the Luangwa Valley during the dry season in 2001, followed by a wet season visit in 2002. The first full (5 month) field season was conducted in 2003 under the original project name of “Carnivore Zambia” (CAZAM) and consisted of camera trapping and track surveys in North Luangwa National Park (NLNP).

Location map of Zambia in Africa

Location map of Zambia in Africa

North Luangwa National Park shown (red) within the Luangwa Valley ecosystem (green)

North Luangwa National Park shown (red) within the Luangwa Valley ecosystem (green)

North Luangwa with rains on the way

North Luangwa with rains on the way

The scope of CAZAM’s research was dictated by available transport, which at that time consisted of a 4x4 motorbike. While economical, safety was marginal and the distance that could be covered was limited by cruising range. Longer (overnight) trips required carrying extra fuel or pre-arranging caches along the route.

A 4x4 motorbike was the project’s first transport

A 4x4 motorbike was the project’s first transport

CAZAM’s first base camp was located at Marula Puku, Frankfurt Zoological Society’s research station located in the heart of NLNP. Later, a seasonal tented camp was constructed nearby. Marula Puku was run by the North Luangwa Conservation Project whose previous managers provided considerable logistical assistance as well as friendly encouragement throughout CAZAM’s first years. While there were few human inhabitants, the camp was frequented by four-legged visitors including “Survivor” a mischievous elephant infamous to the area.

Early base camp located at Marula Puku, North Luangwa National Park

Early base camp located at Marula Puku, North Luangwa National Park

“Survivor” was a regular visitor to base camp

“Survivor” was a regular visitor to base camp

White’s interest in this region of Africa was based on biogeography and the unresolved taxonomy of Genetta species thought to occur in that area. The Luangwa Valley is home to many endemic subspecies including Cookson’s wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus cooksoni and Thornicraft’s giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti. In addition to multiple species of genets, camera trapping in 2003 revealed many other small carnivore species residing in NLNP most notably in the hill Miombo and upland escarpment forest habitats. Photographed species included the little known Bushy-tailed mongoose Bdeogale crassicauda and Meller’s mongoose Rhynchogale melleri. Camera trapping efforts continued over the next two years. Full results of the small carnivore study may be found in the recent publication White, P.A. 2013 Small Carnivore Conservation.

Morphology and life history of many <em>Genetta</em> species remains poorly described

Morphology and life history of many Genetta species remains poorly described

Thornicraft's Giraffe calf

This Thornicraft giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti calf is one of many subspecies endemic to the Luangwa Valley.

Meller’s mongoose <em>Rhynchogale melleri</em> captured on camera trap

Meller’s mongoose Rhynchogale melleri captured on camera trap

Hill Miombo habitat

Hill Miombo Habitat

Escarpment Forest habitat

Escarpment Forest habitat

While researching small carnivores in NLNP, White queried stakeholders regarding issues or concerns related to other carnivore species in Zambia. African lion Panthera leo, leopard Panthera pardus and African wild dog Lycaon pictus all arose as species with data gaps. Subsequently, CAZAM wrote several proposals to study the large carnivore guild native to the Luangwa Valley e.g., lion, leopard, wild dog and the spotted hyena Crocuta crocuta, however funding for such a large project was not forthcoming in those days.

Meanwhile having assessed the situation further, conservation of the African lion appeared to be the most pressing wildlife issue in Zambia. Late in 2004, CAZAM became the Luangwa Lion Project.

Lion track & hand

Lion track & hand

Large herds of Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer support a healthy population of lions and other predators in Luangwa Valley

Large herds of Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer support a healthy population of lions and other predators in Luangwa Valley

A male lion in his prime relaxes with his pride in South Luangwa National Park

A male lion in his prime relaxes with his pride in South Luangwa National Park

A park pride of lions seeks to escape the stifling October heat

A park pride of lions seeks to escape the stifling October heat

Since that time, the Zambia Lion Project (ZLP) has evolved to focus on lions while expanding its investigations to a countrywide scale. While some surveys and genetic sampling are conducted within the National Parks (NPs), ZLP’s emphasis has been to study lions in the lands surrounding the NPs known as Game Management Areas (GMAs).

Map of Zambia National Parks (green) and Game Management Areas (tan)

Map of Zambia National Parks (green) and Game Management Areas (tan)

GMAs are multi-use areas that often contain human settlements, agriculture, and tourism comprised of both consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (photographic) activities. Zambia’s GMAs cover an area equivalent to the size of its NPs, and it is within GMAs that most of Zambia’s lions reside. Thus, while GMAs play a crucial role in conserving wild lions and their habitat, they also pose the greatest challenge to lion management.

Historical lion quotas in some GMAs were unsustainably high. In response to management recommendations, the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) has reduced lion quotas as part of a recognized need towards science-based management and amidst a larger call for broad lion hunting reforms.

Since 2006, ZLP has conducted a program to sample and age lion trophies in Zambia. Although entirely voluntary to date, cooperation from the hunting fraternity has been outstanding and data were collected from 70-90% of all trophy lions taken between 2006 & 2012. Annual summaries of age estimates were provided to ZAWA to further improve management practices, and a special emphasis was placed on providing timely, personalized feedback to all participating operators.

Dr. White photographs a lion skull as part of the trophy sampling program

Dr. White photographs a lion skull as part of the trophy sampling program

Currently, there is a moratorium on all lion hunting in Zambia. Hunting closures can have unexpected detrimental impacts to lion conservation however, and leading experts agree that hunting reforms are preferable to closures. ZLP continues to promote adoption of a mandatory sampling program in Zambia and minimum age standards for lion trophies should lion hunting be reopened in Zambia in the future.

Press: "The Killing Fields of Zambia"

Advocacy report about poaching in Zambia's national parks and game management areas.

Meanwhile, the ZLP continues its research to improve the accuracy and precision of aging techniques both of wild lions in the bush as well as trophies in hand. This includes collecting data on known-age lions to calibrate samples already obtained from wild lions for whom exact ages cannot be known. Refinement of existing techniques and identification of potential new methodologies are both aimed at improving our ability to quickly and accurately determine a lion’s age. Emphasis has also been placed on hunter education through talks and publication of popular articles in magazines.

Skulls of two trophy lions await examination

Skulls of two trophy lions await examination

Measuring gum recession in canines is one method being explored to age African lions.

Measuring gum recession in canines is one method being explored to age African lions.

Anesthetized lions in Kafue are examined and x-rayed

Anesthetized lions in Kafue are examined and x-rayed

X-ray image of the PM<sup>2</sup> (second upper premolar) of a lion. Closure of the pulp chamber in this tooth is used as one indicator of age.

X-ray image of the PM2 (second upper premolar) of a lion. Closure of the pulp chamber in this tooth is used as one indicator of age.

Location of the PM<sup>2</sup>

Location of the PM2

Closure of skull sutures provide another indication of age

Closure of skull sutures provide another indication of age

"How Old Is Your Trophy Lion?"

Article by Paula White on how to determine a lion's age.

Unlike hunting that is subject to strict national and international regulation and permitting requirements, Human/Wildlife Conflict (HWC) is more difficult to manage. Despite the existence of protocols outlining a host of effective response strategies designed to reduce or mitigate conflict, in Zambia non-lethal alternatives are only rarely explored and HWC usually results in dead lions.

Many reports by villagers of “problem” lions receive no official response at all, resulting in local resentment against the animals themselves, often followed by retaliatory killing. There exists an urgent need for ZAWA to develop Rapid Response Teams that are adequately equipped and trained in non-lethal strategies for HWC. Effective response to HWC in Zambia could drastically reduce the number of lions killed as “problems” each year.

Livestock in and near Zambia’s protected areas degrade habitats and create Human/Wildlife Conflicts.

Livestock in and near Zambia’s protected areas degrade habitats and create Human/Wildlife Conflicts.

A villager sets a wire snare to catch a lion that has killed several of his cattle

A villager sets a wire snare to catch a lion that has killed several of his cattle

Young lioness killed by villagers as a “problem” animal

Young lioness killed by villagers as a “problem” animal

Ensuring the future of large carnivores is by no means the only conflict facing Africa today. A burgeoning rural population now has access to modern advertising and along with it come many of the desires of the Western world. A satellite dish nestled among the ubiquitous mud huts is becoming increasingly common in rural Zambia. Construction of large roads for commerce and mining interests threaten many of Zambia’s wildest areas.

A satellite dish seems an incongruous feature in a rural Zambian village

A satellite dish seems an incongruous feature in a rural Zambian village

Huge swath cleared for construction of a new road through one of Zambia’s GMAs. Along with commerce, roads bring increased poaching and habitat degradation.

Huge swath cleared for construction of a new road through one of Zambia’s GMAs. Along with commerce, roads bring increased poaching and habitat degradation.

A campfire’s glow is a classic feature of the African night

A campfire’s glow is a classic feature of the African night

Unlike many parts of East Africa where wildlife can be easily viewed in vast open plains, direct observation of lions throughout much of Zambia is difficult due to the prevalence of dense vegetation. As a result, little past work had been conducted in Zambia when ZLP began, and the status of Zambia’s lion populations was virtually unknown. ZLP continues to utilize a variety of field and laboratory methods to study lions under these challenging conditions, especially within Zambia’s GMAs. The work is more challenging but both the needs and rewards are equally grand.

Lions in GMAs are often far more wary than lion in NPs. This male has emerged to investigate a playback call. His coalition mate lies in the bushes behind.

Lions in GMAs are often far more wary than lion in NPs. This male has emerged to investigate a playback call. His coalition mate lies in the bushes behind.

Biopsy darting a young lioness. The dart containing the DNA sample has successfully bounced out and lies nearby.

Biopsy darting a young lioness. The dart containing the DNA sample has successfully bounced out and lies nearby.

Tiny barbs inside the biopsy dart’s cutting ferrule tip snip & hold the DNA sample upon impact before bouncing off. No anesthetizing of the lion is required.

Tiny barbs inside the biopsy dart’s cutting ferrule tip snip & hold the DNA sample upon impact before bouncing off. No anesthetizing of the lion is required.

Satellite collar being fitted to a young male lion in southern Kafue.

Satellite collar being fitted to a young male lion in southern Kafue.

Three young male lions in southern Kafue go out in search of their own territory. What will their future hold?

Three young male lions in southern Kafue go out in search of their own territory. What will their future hold?

The goals of the Zambia Lion Project are to:

  1. Conduct countrywide surveys through historic lion habitats in Zambia, with an emphasis on outlying areas where lion occurrence is reported but current status of lion is unknown.
  2. Estimate population size, demography, and productivity of prides, and determine movements of lions between fully-protected National Parks and multi-use Game Management Areas within the two regions in Zambia where lion populations are robust i.e., Luangwa Valley and Kafue ecosystems.
  3. Assess the genetic biodiversity of lions from three potentially different stocks in Zambia (Luangwa Valley, Lower Zambezi, Kafue). Investigations into the genetic profiles of Zambia's lions will aid in identifying wildlife corridors as well as detecting genetic features that may be unique to Zambia's lion populations. Along with geographic information on lion occurrence and distribution, genetic profiles help to identify areas in which lion conservation should be prioritized.
  4. Develop an age-based trophy selection program applicable to Zambia's lions. Working with Professional Hunters and Safari Operators, the ZLP gathers regional information on physical characteristics of trophy lions that correspond to the animal's age. By selecting older lions as trophies, hunting can be conducted in a sustainable fashion with minimal negative impact on the resident lion population.

The Zambia Lion Project conducts field work and utilizes first-hand accounts from hunting safari operators, photo-tourism camps, and anti-poaching scouts in collecting data to address the research questions listed above and more. Field studies include playbacks, track surveys, satellite collaring and biopsy sampling for genetic (DNA) analysis. Professional Hunters and Safari Operators provide samples from trophy lions taken during the hunting season for genetic and age studies. Laboratory work includes genetic analyses at both the population and meta-population scales, and skull and tooth morphometric analyses for age determination.

Select Publications

Dubach, J.M., M.B. Briggs, P.A. White, B.A. Ament, and B.D. Patterson. 2013. Genetic perspectives on “Lion Conservation Units” in Eastern and Southern Africa Conservation Genetics 14:741-755. PDF

White, P.A. 2013. Distribution, habitat use and activity patterns of nocturnal small carnivores in the North Luangwa Valley, Zambia. Small Carnivore Conservation 48:37-46. PDF

Hunter, L.T.B., P. White, P. Henschel, L. Frank, C. Burton, A. Loveridge, G. Balme, C. Breitenmoser, and U. Breitenmoser. 2012b. No science, no success and still no need for captive-origin lion reintroduction: a reply to Abell and Youldon. Oryx 47(1):27-28. PDF

Hunter, L.T.B., P. White, P. Henschel, L. Frank, C. Burton, A. Loveridge, G. Balme, C. Breitenmoser, and U. Breitenmoser. 2012a. Walking with lions: why there is no role for captive-origin lions Panthera leo in species restoration. Oryx 47(1):19-24. PDF

White, P.A. and C.G. Diedrich. 2012. Taphonomy story of a modern African elephant Loxodonta africana carcass on a lakeshore in Zambia (Africa). Quaternary International Mammoths and their Relatives 2: Biotopes, Evolution and Human Impact 276-277:287-296. PDF


CTR Bird

Center for Tropical Research | UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
La Kretz Hall, Suite 300 | 619 Charles E. Young Dr. East | Los Angeles, CA 90095-1496

The Center for Tropical Research, located on the third floor of La Kretz Hall, is part of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at the University of California, Los Angeles. For general inquiries, contact Christa Gomez, CTR Office Manager, at 310-206-6234, or by email at cgomez@lifesci.ucla.edu. Visitors are always welcome.

Back to Top