Wild hope: The Carnivores of Sibiloi

Sibiloi from the air.
Sibiloi from the air (Picture by Miquel Torrents-Ticó)

  A long history of love-hate is reflected in human-carnivore relationship. In Sibiloi National Park, carnivore species have all suffered dramatic declines in numbers and distribution as a consequence of human activity. Some of these symbolic species have already gone extinct in the area such as lion, leopard and cheetah, which reflect a catastrophic example of what is known as the ‘Empty Park Syndrome’. Consequently, there is a pressing need to identify how many mammalian carnivore species remain in the area recognized as ‘The Cradle of Human Kind’.

As a result of two expeditions (November-December 2016 and March-April 2017), the team could identify the presence of a small number of large herbivores; such as oryx (Oryx beisa), zebra (Equus quagga), topi (Damaliscus lunatus) and gerenuk (Litocranius walleri), all restricted to the southern part of the park. Nevertheless, carnivores are normally more difficult to see with the naked eye. Therefore, the combination of several monitoring techniques; for instance camera trap sampling (15 camera traps were set up), tracks identification (over 80 tracks were documented) and faecal sample collection (more than 60 faecal samples were collected) helped to recognize carnivore presence, mostly hiding in the darkness of the night.

Two expeditions involving camera trap sampling, tracks identification and faecal sample collection.

Taken together, these results suggest that Spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) and Black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) are the most common mammalian carnivores in the park. Signs of both species were detected during the dry and the rainy season, and in each study area (Lomosia, Allia bay, Koobi fora, Karare and Il-kimire). Furthermore, their occurrence was found in different habitats (river, bush and grassland).

Spotted hyaena  and Black-backed jackal, the most abundant carnivores.

Less sporadically and with a more irregular distribution few other carnivores were identified: African wildcat (Felis silvestris), Common genet (Genetta genetta), Common jackal (Canis aureus) and Striped hyaena (Hyaena hyaena), which is categorized as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List.

Some primarily insectivorous species of the Order Carnivora, such as Bat-eared fox (Otocyon megalotis) and White-tailed mongoose(Ichneumia albicauda) were detected at midnight, when they are more active. Furthermore, the third member of the smallest of the existing hyaenas in the area, Aardwolf (Proteles cristata), was detected in few locations.

Finally, there were signs of hope after spotting, only once, the highly secretive and difficult to observe Caracal (Caracal caracal).

To conclude, only 10 species of the Order Carnivora were identified in the park and despite this constant and real process of biodiversity lossis little known and news questions appear after these results.  Large herbivores seem to be located around Allia bay (southern part of Sibiloi), but carnivore signs were found along the park, principally in Koobi fora. How do carnivores survive with this low number of herbivores living in a reduced and specific location? How is the concentration of these carnivores, especially spotted hyaenas? Which are their real area of distribution?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s