Camera Worn by Lion May Aid African Conservation

John Roach
for National Geographic News
January 16, 2004

This story is one of a series looking at National Geographic Crittercam research. Crittercam is a research instrument worn by wild animals and equipped with a video camera and other information-gathering equipment. Crittercam is used on animals both in the ocean and on land.

To learn more about the Crittercam's field test in Kenya, tune in to the Crittercam: Lions episode on the National Geographic Channel in the United States on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. ET. Got a high-speed connection? Click here to watch previews of the Crittercam television documentaries on the National Geographic Channel Web site.

At more than 300 pounds (135 kilograms) of muscle and bone, a full-grown female lion can kill her prey with a single, stealthy pounce and clamp of her powerful jaws. The trick in central Kenya's Laikipia District is to make sure the lioness' prey is wildlife, not livestock.

"There are no formally government protected areas in Laikipia," said Laurence Frank, a wildlife biologist at the University of California at Berkeley. "All of it is privately owned in one form or another."

The Laikipia plateau is the embodiment of romantic East Africa: a patchwork of vast, open commercial ranches owned by settlers interspersed with communal lands occupied by indigenous tribespeople. Snowcapped Mount Kenya shimmers on the southeastern horizon.

Over the past seven years, Frank and his colleagues with the Laikipia Predator Project have worked tirelessly to make the region one of the few places in the world where wildlife and livestock co-exist. But by no means is their work done.

National Geographic's Crittercam crew joined Frank in February 2003 to test, for the first time, a Crittercam designed for use on a terrestrial animal. Their animal of choice was a lion. The camera passed with flying colors, enduring feeding frenzies and the nibbles of lion cubs. Once the technology is scaled down, Frank said it could be an asset to his work.

Scientific Approach

Rosie Woodroffe, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Davis and colleague of Frank's in Laikipia, said the key to the success of the Laikipia Predator Project is a rigorous scientific approach.

The goal of the project, she said, is to give farmers and wildlife managers sound advice on how wildlife and livestock can live together. If the advice is adopted, then the project researchers stand a chance at meeting their goal.

"But advice is cheap, especially if it's not good advice," said Woodroffe. "The only way to know if it's good is to test it and that's been the difference between what we're doing and what's been done previously."

To provide protection from predators and thieves, just about everyone in Laikipia keeps their livestock at night in makeshift corrals of thorns, called bomas.

Continued on Next Page >>




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