Tag: Living alongside wildlife
Margaret, one of our Scottish wildcats, has moved to the RZSS (Royal Zoological Society of Scotland) Highland Wildlife Park to be a key part of reintroduction efforts in Scotland. But what is a wildcat, why are they so threatened and what are we doing to help?
This International Tiger Day, we’re reflecting on the first phase of our Living with Tigers project in the Terai region of Nepal.
As part of our Living with Tigers project, local communities had the opportunity to feedback on what they believed would make a positive impact on their day-to-day lives. The four communities we work with who live in areas bordering either Bardia or Chitwan National Parks in Nepal, expressed a strong need for horticulture workshops that would help them become less dependent on the forest for their livelihoods.
Reducing human-wildlife conflict in Nepal
In 2016, together with Green Governance Nepal, we implemented the Living with Tigers project to minimise human-felid conflicts in the ‘buffer zones’ of Chitwan National Park and Bardia National Park.
The project is operating mainly to minimise the risk of tiger attacks, improve the protection of local communities’ livestock, promote alternative livelihoods, change behaviour and conduct ecological and social research.
The Living with Tigers project implements numerous activities, like the installation of predator proof pens and biogas plants but an important part of our job also involves providing training opportunities on goat farming and organic agriculture techniques.
Discover Ravi Sunakhari Magar’s story:
Ravi Sunakhari Magar lives in Geruwa Rural Municipality 01, which is one of the many buffer zone areas of Bardia National Park. She is a 75 year old single woman living in a small hut made up of bamboo and grass. Like many others who live in the buffer zone of the national park, Mrs Magar was facing the problem of human-wildlife conflict. She had a traditional livestock shed which was regularly attacked from tigers or leopards.
Among many beneficiaries of the project, Mrs Magar received support to install an improved predator-proof pen and it has been a pivotal change in her life! She also participated in training programmes delivered by the Living with Tigers project team and as a result has increased her goat holding to seven this year. Mrs Magar says:
“My life has changed and I can now heave a sigh of relief. My life has become happier as my livestock are safer and I am earning money from selling my goats. With the money earned I can buy rice, lentil, salt and other things for myself.”
She heartily thanked the Living with Tigers project for its effort to minimise human-felid conflict by improving local livelihoods. Mrs Magar can be an inspiration for many others and shows that the adoption of alternative livelihoods can be a great source of income generation. Therefore, improving local participation in conservation is crucial to make sure that projects such as the Living with Tigers project have a positive impact on local communities.
Discover Toran Bahadur Adhikari’s story:
Unemployment is a major problem in Nepal which makes paying for food and school fees for local children nearly impossible. Mr Toran Bahadur Adhikari knows this very well as his family income used to be too low for him to be able to send his children to school. Living in Kharikuna, Ayodhyapuri User Committee, he is now a successful farmer in an area that has started keeping livestock thanks to the support of the Living with Tigers project.
Toran was born in 1965 in western Nepal and migrated to Kharikuna in 2006 with his family. He initially struggled to settle with his family and earned some income by labouring, rent farming and collecting natural resources for the subsistence of his household.
Supporting his family – his mother, his wife and their two sons – in this new village was quite a challenge. He owned some land in the area; however, it was located near the forest and dry land.
Toran Bahadur’s skills and the effort he spent on farming, livestock keeping, handicraft, and carpentry kept him motivated to face challenges. He fought with Mother Nature to change the productivity of his dry land and has kept goats, chickens and cows, as well as seasonable vegetables in his kitchen garden.
During one of the training sessions provided by the Chester Zoo Horticulture and Botany team and conducted by Green Governance Nepal in early 2018, Toran learned about the benefits of kitchen gardening and started being inquisitive about vegetable farming. He says:
“I gathered my courage and expressed the willingness to receive some farming support because I wanted to try something new. In March 2018, after receiving the kit consisting of seeds of 10 types of vegetable, I started sowing in the backyard of my house, toiling hard following the instructions given in the training.”
“I took care of the garden like if it was my own child – watering the seeds at regular intervals, feeding them with organic manure from time to time and keeping the garden clean. By the third week of April, my efforts were rewarded. I planted almost all of the seeds and sold few of them to my neighbors. There was a boom in my field within two months.”
Recently, he received a follow up training session by the Chester Zoo Horticulture team. After retaining the adequate amount of vegetables for family consumption, Toran sold the surplus at the local market of his village. In addition to providing him with an income, not buying any vegetables for home consumption helped him save a considerable amount of money.
Toran added: “I used the surplus income generated from the vegetables to cater to the other households needs.”
The Tamta-Anar Community Forest hosts a population of tigers and leopards and is used by people for grazing and fodder collections. The conflict with carnivores was high in the past, and leopards and tigers have been recorded to kill goats, cows and chickens and have even attacked people. Toran’s house is about 50 meters away from this forest but despite the risks, he was motivated by Green Governance Nepal and the Living with Tigers project to start doing some goat farming.
Toran’s wife was provided with necessary mesh wires and materials to construct a predator-proof pen and also received some technical knowledge through the project’s training programme. Toran continues:
“After receiving support from the Living with Tigers project, I increased my number of goats from seven to nine and am confident for their safety during both the day and the night. We can sleep well at night.”
By setting the perfect example of self-sufficiency, this family has increased their income and is providing better facilities to their family. Overall, the success of Toran and his family’s vegetable garden and goat farming did not simply yield socio-economic benefits but also empowered them as small entrepreneurs!
Toran and his wife now feel confident and look forward to many more profitable opportunities. They are going to grow mushrooms and will start making their own compost. Life is all about taking chances and Toran and his family took the initiative to learn, understand, and apply new techniques to get better results.
Human-elephant conflict was highlighted as one of the major threats to elephants in Kenya in the ‘Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Conservation and Management Strategy for Elephant in Kenya 2012-2021′. It was this document that inspired Lydia to develop a PhD project to try and understand the impacts of land-use change on human-elephant conflict and elephant movement in the Trans Mara District, Kenya. Lydia specifically wanted to:
- Determine the implications of agricultural expansion on human-elephant conflict;
- Understand the seasonal, temporal and spatial drivers of crop raiding over time;
- Investigate elephant pathway use and their role in human-elephant conflict;
- Understand links between farmer poverty and human-elephant conflict.
Lydia chose the Trans Mara District to carry out her research as it is an unprotected area adjacent to the Masai Mara National Reserve where communities are experiencing high levels of human-elephant conflict, which is impacting peoples livelihoods and threatening elephant populations.
In 2014, Lydia headed out to the Trans Mara to start collecting data. In order to look at seasonal, temporal and spatial trends of elephant crop raiding and compare these to the past, she had to monitor and collect incidences of conflicts over 18 months. Lydia hired and trained 12 field scouts from across the region, which was approximately 2,900 km2, to help her collect data. Lydia tells us more below:
“Whenever there was an incident with an elephant our scouts would go and collect this data. As the scouts were embedded members of the community, farmers would alert them straight away to incidents. The scouts would then interview the farmers about the incident, verify the amount of damage, collect a GPS coordinate and work out the type of elephant group involved.
“My research also focussed on elephant movements in the area and so I looked at natural pathways that elephants use to travel up from the Masai Mara Reserve into the Trans Mara and back down again. The first step was to actually identify where the pathways were which we did by consulting with local farmers and rangers and verifying them by physically visiting them and looking for elephant signs. In order to understand pathway usage we installed over 38 camera traps along the pathways. Our goal was to determine when, how often and what time of day elephants are using the pathways, and what characteristics of these pathways might be driving their movement.”
Another aspect of human-wildlife conflict that Lydia wanted to investigate was the link between wealth and the number of conflicts being recorded in the region. The research team conducted a total of 326 interviews with farmers and four focus group sessions to determine what the wealth metric of the area was.
Lydia also digitised land cover in the area and ran regression models to create maps of areas particularly vulnerable to crop raiding, allowing her to generate different land-use change scenarios. Firstly, she documented dramatic land-cover change in the area showing that between 2012 and 2015 there was a 42.5% increase in agricultural land and over 30% decline in forest area. Lydia continues:
“These trends are concerning because the forest in the Trans Mara is extremely important not just for wildlife but for the local community too. My scenario modelling suggests that even with high future deforestation levels, large areas will remain susceptible to elephant crop raiding. Many farmers are clearing the forest because they think it will reduce crop raiding. However, our models show that conflict will continue because as long as small patches of forest remain, elephants will be able to use these as staging posts for crop raiding.
“Human-elephant conflict has increased in the area by 49% since 2000 and has become much less predictable. Elephants are crop raiding throughout the whole year and eating crops at all stages of growth. Historically, they would only eat mature crops and crop raiding would only occur seasonally. This unpredictability is costing local farmers as they are having to guard their fields all year round and have to spend more on mitigation. This will all accumulate to farmers having less tolerance towards elephants which could lead to more retaliatory killing.”
Lydia also found that elephants were using the pathways connecting the Masai Mara to the Trans Mara mostly at night when they had less chance of being detected by humans. The elephant groups would travel up to the Trans Mara in the early evening and would then head to the Masai Mara in the late morning. The key drivers of the pathway use turned out to be access to resources such as salt lakes and forest, but also to farmers’ crops, highlighting the key role that pathways play in human-elephant conflict.
Finally, Lydia found that human-elephant conflict impacts some of the poorest people in the Trans Mara because they tend to live closest to the Masai Mara National Reserve, although the very poor are relatively unaffected, presumably because they have fewer resources for elephants to target.
Lydia believes that in light of changing patterns of human-elephant conflict and land cover, land-use planning is crucial to balance the needs of humans and wildlife. The knowledge gained from this study can directly inform conservation management in this area. Lydia explains:
“We now know the areas susceptible to conflict, the drivers of conflict, the role pathways play and the socio-economic context of the communities in the Trans Mara. The knowledge of pathway use can enable us to direct mitigation methods. For instance, we could block elephant access on certain pathways which lead directly to farms by using fences and early warning detection systems.”
Having finished her PhD recently, Lydia is now Research & Science Manager for Save the Elephant’s Human-Elephant Coexistence Program in Tsavo, Kenya. The team there is working towards reducing damage from crop-raiding elephants by setting up beehive fences as a natural deterrent. They also monitor and analyse the movement of 30 GPS collared elephants in Tsavo to understand their movement and crop raiding behaviour.
Photo credits: Lydia Tiller
We’re working across the globe to protect a variety of cat species – including tigers, jaguars and Scottish wildcats; each facing different threats like habitat loss or human-wildlife conflict.
Our Living with Tigers team is celebrating World Wildlife Day (March 3) by sharing the amazing wildlife they’ve come across in Nepal, and not just the big cats they’ve spotted.
Chester Zoo Conservation Scholar Amy Fitzmaurice who has been working in the Nepali National Parks of Chitwan and Bardia using camera traps tells us all about it.
“Even though the Living with Tigers project focusses on reducing human-tiger and human-leopard conflict with local communities, they are not the only species we find on our camera traps. Nepal is like a real world ‘Jungle Book’ and for World Wildlife Day we want to celebrate its biodiversity! So I’m going to share with you the amazing range of wildlife that we find in this incredible part of the world…
“Our camera traps recorded the presence of dholes in our study areas. Most people have never heard of this species as it is rarely seen! Dholes are an unstudied Asian wild dog that looks like a thin wolf and a red fox mixed together. I had the rare privilege of seeing one in Chitwan National Park in November 2017 on a misty morning.
“Many of the species found in Nepal can be found in India and striped hyenas are among those species found in both countries. They have very distinctive footprints with a large front foot and a small back foot. Again, these animals are rarely seen and the team was very excited when we saw them on the cameras!
“Our cameras also recorded sloth bears, which are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I love sloth bears because they are clever and mysterious, however, they seem to enjoy eating our camera traps a bit too much!
“Bears are not the only ones that like to examine our cameras. Rhinos appear to be very inquisitive and they spend lots of time smelling the camera traps, which makes for great selfies!
“We also found a lot of jungle cats, civets, honey badgers, monkeys, mongoose, jackal, other rare and elusive cat species, elephants and many species of deer when we retrieved the pictures from our camera traps. We recorded a forest buffalo too! Called a gaur, this species is recognisable by its half-white legs.”
The Living with Tigers team is proud to be working in Nepal with the local communities and our partner Green Governance Nepal to protect wildlife. We will all celebrating World Wildlife Day tomorrow.”
An important aspect of our Living with Tigers project is to engage the communities around Chitwan and Bardia National Parks in Nepal in devising participatory approaches to ensure their safety, improve their livelihoods, and prevent retaliatory killing of tigers.
To know more about the local communities we work with, we worked with an external expert to conduct a livelihood and market analysis study within our project study sites. The study assessed the existing and potential alternative livelihood options; identified livelihood training requirement needs and conducted a market analysis of the potential alternative livelihood options in four ‘buffer zone’ community forest user groups in Bardia and Chitwan National Parks based on qualitative analysis using participatory rural appraisal tools to collect data.
The report identified goat farming, ecotourism, non-timber forest product cultivation, fish farming and vegetable farming as potential differentiated livelihood options and also recommended supporting local people to enhance existing options.
Delivering training in processing plants and developing irrigation facilities for non-timber forest product cultivation, providing predator proof pens, introducing fecund cross breeds for goat farming, providing fish rearing training, provisioning micro-credits for vegetable farming, developing infrastructure and facilities for ecotourism would assist local communities to become more resilient
The Living with Tigers project also recently hired street performers to deliver a social behavioural change campaign by bringing the theatre to our project site communities! Using the data we collected from social surveys and focus group discussions both Chester Zoo and Green Governance Nepal, with the help of a Nepalese script writer and our Social Marketing Advisor Diogo Verissimo, created a thirty-minute performance.
The story followed the lives of several families who had experienced human-tiger conflict and what human behaviours led to the encounters. Using humour and local folklore, stories were told about ways to reduce the risk from tiger and leopard attacks and practical mitigation measures to keep people and livestock safe were acted out.
In parallel of working towards achieving social behavioural changes in the local communities, the Living with Tigers project also aims at gathering data about the tigers and leopards living in the area. To do so, our Conservation Scholar Amy Fitzmaurice has been collecting faecal samples to identify felid species and find out what the big cats are eating.
We have partnered with RZSS WildGenes, which have their laboratory facilities based in Edinburgh Zoo and the Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal (CMDN), to conduct cutting-edge conservation genetic research, using microsatellite genotype data to identify individual animals and DNA metabarcode data to understand what items the tigers and leopards might have eaten.
Insights into diet can be gained by examining fragments of undigested items that get passed as faecal material, such as seeds, bits of bone, and hair/fur or feathers. Although this can give an indication to the types of food that are consumed, many items can be difficult to identify even with specialist knowledge and equipment.
Metabarcoding is a form of DNA analysis able to pick up the DNA present in a faecal sample, including that from the items that the animal has eaten. The fragment of DNA looked at is one that is good at distinguishing between different species, usually a portion of the mitochondrial or chloroplast genome. It is amplified using a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and then sequenced using next generation sequencing technology. The DNA sequences are sorted, filtered, and then compared to a database which contains all known possible species sequences. Using sequences that give a positive match against the database attempts can be made to identify the items consumed by the animal.
In Nepal, many of the rural communities’ own livestock that are grazed around the forest edge and thought to be easy prey for wild animals. Tigers and leopards are frequently blamed for killing livestock and communities can retaliate, which results in human-wildlife conflicts that can negatively affect both the rural communities and these endangered species.
RZSS WildGenes will develop laboratory protocols for examining large carnivore diets which will be transferred to CMDN, where they will be used to analyse faecal samples collected by Amy and her field team. The results aim to determine what proportion of the wild large felid diets consist of livestock compared to the natural prey.
The Living with Tigers Chester Zoo-led project is ran in partnership with Oxford University WildCru, Green Governance Nepal and the Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal (CMDN) and funded in part by the Darwin Initiative.
The Andean bear project was developed by Chester Zoo in partnership with The University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and Bolivian NGO Prometa. This conservation initiative is the first of its kind in Bolivia and aims to study the population dynamics of bears and the drivers of human-bear conflict in the Andean dry forests of Bolivia. So far, the team has deployed 70 camera traps in 35 stations and has collected signs of bear presence such as tree marks, food remains and scats.
Chester Zoo Conservation Fellow Dr Ximena Velez-Liendo is currently in Bolivia studying the Andean bear and she is determined to declare the iconic species as part of Bolivia’s National Natural Heritage. The below video, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, provides an overview of the work Ximena is doing to conserve Andean bears in Bolivia:
To achieve her goal, Ximena has been working with various MPs and other politicians to pass a law, the Ajayu’s law, to protect the Andean bear and ultimately its ecosystem.
Ximena tells us more below:
It was a really interesting experience to be in front of MPs and to get the opportunity to explain why this species is so special. At the moment, this law is at the senate where it will hopefully be approved by the President early next year.
Alongside this, Ximena is working with other Bolivian conservationists and the government to develop an Andean bear and jaguar Conservation Action Plan. Ximena has also recently given a TEDx talk in Tarija; below she tells us more about the topics she covered during this talk (which was in Spanish):
“My talk was about the lessons I learnt from my life as a bear biologist but also about the role that my grandmother played in my life. She always wanted me to travel and see the world. She used to say: ‘Do not stay at home! Go out, travel, gain experiences, meet new people, learn new languages’.
“I also talked about my first encounter with an Andean bear, and how lucky I felt to see one on my very first day in the field. This bear taught me to take things with ease, to move slow, to be patient but he also taught me about resilience, adaptation, and survival.”
Ximena finished her talk by reminding the audience of the important role that the Andean bear plays in the dry forest ecosystem in Bolivia. When a fire burns in the Andean dry forest, the bears will be the ones to disperse seeds, allowing the forest to bloom again. Ximena ended her talk by giving seeds to the audience asking them to go out there and disperse the seeds and become a bear for one day.
We support the project, which launched earlier this year, to assess the impact of road-kill on giant anteaters and intend to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between giant anteaters and roads. This unique animal is known to receive a negative response from the public, potentially explaining the high number of road-kills recorded.
The project carries out road surveys to register the number of giant anteater victims of road incidents and also giant anteater expeditions, where individuals are measured and equipped with GPS harnesses. This allows the team to collect vital data on their distribution and assess the risk associated with the nearby highway.
Since its start in mid-January, the road-kill study surveyed a total of 13,985km and recorded a staggering number of 1,242 dead animals! That’s equivalent to one dead animal every 11km surveyed! Six-banded armadillos, giant anteaters and Southern tamanduas were among the most killed with respectively 171,131 and 75 individuals counted.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! The various expeditions were very successful with a total of 19 giant anteaters captured. Reflective tape was glued to the GPS collars with the hope that it would increase their chances of survival if and when they cross the highway. The goal for 2018 is to catch 20 more anteaters in a new study area.
To honour our long term partnership, the Anteaters and Highways team decided to name one of the males they captured, Chester. Chester is 29kgs and was caught only 500 metres away from the highway. In the past few weeks Chester has crossed the highway safely, providing valuable information on when and how a giant anteater cross roads.
The team have also started a camera trap grid to estimate the density of giant anteaters near and far from roads. Data collected by this activity will be valuable throughout the species distribution.
We’re also excited to share that one of the female giant anteaters the team have been monitoring gave birth. This female, called Bumpus, lives about 3km from the highway. She has never crossed the road; she and her baby should be safe. Five of the other individuals are crossing the highway frequently, which is a major cause for concern. The team will continue to carry out surveys of highways with the support of local volunteers and students.
Other research objectives of the Anteaters and Highways Project are also progressing well. PhD student Mari Catapani has recently finished her first round of interviews with truck drivers to try and gain an understanding of their perceptions regarding roadkill, in particular giant anteaters. This will support in the development of mitigation strategies. There are many negative superstitions regarding giant anteaters too.
Vinicius Albereci will also be starting a PhD field work with the Anteater and Highways project, evaluating impacts of roads using camera traps and occupancy models. Vinicius has been awarded the new Nat Geo Photo Ark Edge fellowship from our colleagues at ZSL to help conduct this work. This is very exciting and will be huge help to the Anteaters and Highways Project.
Watch this space for more updates from the project as it continues to progress and develop further in order to protect the giant anteater from extinction. Read more about the project, here >