Assessing the causes, impacts, and future implications of increased use of preserve boundaries by leopards on research, tourism, and human-wildlife interactions in southern Africa
Candelario, Luis Roberto
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Safari guides and researchers on the Mashatu Game Reserve observed that the leopard population may be increasing in the southwestern area of the reserve despite the fact that these were areas of high human density. My dissertation addresses human-leopard conflict near the reserve using three approaches: (1) assessing the increase in site usage of leopards in the southwestern Mashatu, (2) using least-cost analysis to determine transition corridors for leopards dispersing from the Mashatu to surrounding habitat areas, and (3) determining through a questionnaire survey the attitudes of safari guides toward the environment and toward wildlife research. I conducted a camera-trap study to investigate the site usage of leopards during 2013 and 2014. Results confirmed the observations of guides and researchers. I detected a statistically significant increase in leopard site usage. I conducted a least-cost analysis study to identify specific tracts of land that would be most compatible with the goal of ensuring relatively safe travel of leopards dispersing from Mashatu to Zimbabwe and South Africa between blocks of suitable habitat. Results indicated areas along the border of the Tuli block both on the Zimbabwean and South African sides were heavily used by humans. Despite high costs associated with these areas, small paths through human use zones existed via vegetated riverbanks and ridges which could support transition corridors. My results also indicated that the Zimbabwean landscape poses higher travel costs than the South African landscape does to leopards dispersing from the Tuli block. The ecotourism industry in Botswana and South Africa contributes to public-private initiatives involving community based natural resource management (CBNRM). Recognizing that outreach programs could be developed which combine the knowledge of local wildlife researchers with the indigenous conservation knowledge and field experience of guides, I designed a quantitative questionnaire to evaluate the opinions of safari guides in the Mashatu Game Reserve toward environmental protection and wildlife research. Results indicated that a majority of guides surveyed had strong positive opinions regarding the protection of wildlife and the environment and strong positive opinions regarding researchers and the value of wildlife research taking place in the areas in which they guide.