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Spoor Surveys of Large Carnivores Spoor Surveys of Large Carnivores Spoor Surveys of Large Carnivores

Spoor Surveys of Large Carnivores

From the annual report submitted to the Government of Botswana by The Botswana Predator Conservation Program (Dr. J. W. “Tico” McNutt, Director and Project lead: Tshepo 'Dungi' Kgokilwe")

Monitoring trends in animal population sizes and distribution is an essential component of wildlife research and management. The Botswana Predator Conservation Program is monitoring all five large carnivore species that occur in northern Botswana (Moremi Game Reserve and adjacent Wildlife Management Areas), including lions (Panthera leo), leopards (Panthera pardus), cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus), spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) and African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus). We are conducting spoor (tracks, trails and droppings) surveys with the aim to calibrate this indirect census method with the actual number of individuals per species identified from radio tracking data, in order to provide reliable and cost-effective indexes of large carnivore population sizes and distribution.

Figure 5. Overall spoor density (number of spoor per 100 km road) for all five large carnivore species occurring in northern Botswana (Moremi Game Reserve and adjacent Wildlife Management Areas).

A total of 14 different roads transects in three habitat types (mopane woodland, mixed woodland and floodplain habitat) are routinely surveyed for spoor. By September’s end, 110 transects, covering a distance of 1,897.3 km, have been driven. Spotted hyenas show by far the highest overall spoor density (number of spoor per 100 km road) in the sampling area, with cheetahs and wild dogs showing the lowest spoor density (Fig. 1). Lions, leopards and spotted hyenas show the highest spoor density in floodplain habitat, followed by mixed woodland and mopane woodland (Fig. 2). Cheetahs and wild dogs, on the other hand, seem to avoid floodplain habitat and show the highest spoor density in mixed woodland (Fig. 2).

Figure 6. Spoor density (number of spoor per 100 km road) for all five large carnivore species occurring in northern Botswana (Moremi Game Reserve and adjacent Wildlife Management Areas) according to habitat type.

As exemplified here by spotted hyenas as the most abundant large carnivore species that occurs in northern Botswana, we then relate these spoor density data to the actual number of individuals per species identified from radio tracking data. True density (number of individuals per 100 km) is estimated by dividing clan size by home range size (in km) times 100 (Table 1). This figure is regressed against spoor density within the respective clan’s home range (Table 1), each containing varying proportions of the three habitat types (Fig. 3).

Clan Clan Size Home range
size (km2)
True desnity
(per 100 km2)
Spoor density
(per 100km)
Ceres 7 154 4.55 38.11
Athena 15 177 8.47 34.75
Poseidon 5 528 0.95 29.90

Table 5. Characteristics of three neighbouring clans of spotted hyenas in northern Botswana (Moremi Game Reserve and adjacent Wildlife Management Areas).

*95% kernel of location data (n = 903, 3857 and 2261, respectively) from spotted hyenas fitted with GPS radio collars, with smoothing factor set at 0.5.

Figure 7. Relationship between true density (number of individuals per 100 km) and spoor density (number of spoor per 100 km road) for spotted hyenas in northern Botswana (Moremi Game Reserve and adjacent Wildlife Management Areas).

Our spoor surveys thus provide a reliable and cost-effective indirect census method for monitoring trends in population sizes and distribution.

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Botswana Predator Conservation Program and Trust

Tel: (267) 686 2363 Email: Private Bag 13, Maun, Botswana 98124-0687

Dr J. Weldon "Tico" McNutt - Program Director, Principal Investigator Email:

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