KINGSVILLE (November 8, 2011) — Research associate Arturo Caso recently returned from a two-month research expedition in the East African country of Tanzania and he hopes to return next summer. What is the Texas A&M University-Kingsville researcher doing in Tanzania? Counting lions of course.
“The goal of the study is to establish population density of African lions and leopards in two different game reserves, Lungazo and Rungwa,” Caso said. “Ours is a pilot program. This is the first time a population count has been done in a game reserve and the first time one has been done using the methods we used.”
Dr. Mike Tewes, Regents Professor for wildlife and Caso’s advisor, said remote sensing cameras were used along roadways and trails to count the number of lions and leopards in the areas. The cameras are triggered by the movements of the animals capturing photos of the specimens “They were able to tell one lion from another by their body markings like the length of their manes or any scaring and one leopard from another by the patterns of their spots.”
Calling stations also were used in the study, set up many miles from camp, Caso said. The stations played sounds of buffalo, a sound identifiable by the carnivorous lions and leopards. The sounds attracted the big cats to the area, where videos and photos were taken.
The sounds didn’t just attract lions and leopards, but other carnivores like the serval, a medium size wild cat native to Africa.
None of the animals were captured or tagged during the process and as the calling stations were moved around the large game reserves, different animals showed up, he said.
The Rungwa reserve is about 250 square miles (6,000 square kilometers) while the Lungazo reserve is slightly smaller.
At this point in the study, Caso has discovered that there are more lions in the reserves than previously thought, but he must get the funding to return for subsequent seasons to confirm his results.
“We are finding that the lions and leopards are staying within the game reserves where the populations were good. However, there are almost none outside the reserves because of human populations,” Caso said.
Hunting is currently permitted in the game reserves in Tanzania, but there is opposition to this, thus the need for the study, Tewes said.
Caso said they stayed in nice tents provided by the Robin Hurt Wildlife Foundation. “They provided us with everything we needed from accommodations to transportation to personnel.
“We did our calling far away from our camps, but you could hear the lions at night making their low roaring noises,” he said. “It reminds you where you are and that you are the potential prey.”
They did have a close call when some elephants roamed through camp on their way to find water. “It was the dry season and we were camped near the river. They just proceed on their way to the river and it didn’t matter to them that our camp was in the way.”
“I have been studying wild cats for 20 years, but to go to Africa is like going to the Olympics of wildlife research,” Caso said. “I have worked with ocelots and other wild cat species, but the challenge of participating in a study in Africa and hopefully helping others makes it that much better.”
This is not Caso’s first trip to Africa. The Mexico City native first went to Africa on a hunting trip with his father when he was 17 years old. He has been back eight times and plans to go back for next year’s research session.
Caso is a research associate for the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M-Kingsville and a student working toward his doctoral degree in wildlife science from the Dick and Mary Lewis Kleberg College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Human Sciences.
His work was made possible through funding from the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute, the Robin Hurt Wildlife Foundation, the Lubbock Safari Club, Wild Cat Conservation Inc., the Houston Safari Club Gulf Coast Chapter, Felipe Reveihjac, Caso Family and Sasha Carvajal.