Introduction to Panthera

Guest | June 29, 2022


Founded in 2006, Panthera is devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s 40 species of wild cats and the vast ecosystems they inhabit.

In order to survive, and more importantly, to thrive, wild cats need three things. They are not unlike what humans need. Wild cats need a safe space, plentiful prey/ food, and a connection to other cats.

Due to the rising threats of poachingthe illegal wildlife tradehuman-cat conflict and habitat loss, it is becoming increasingly difficult for wild cats across the world to have access to these basic necessities in order to live. Panthera, along with our partners and our supporters, work to give critically endangered cat populations a new chance at life.

Our team is now going to introduce you to three of the most powerful tools we use in partnership with Zambia’s Department of National Parks to protect big cats in Zambia, along with one of our major projects:

  • Camera Trapping
  • Citizen’s Science
  • Halo Protection
  • The North Carolina Zoo Vulture Project

Camera Trapping

What is Camera Trapping?

Every year our Panthera team, in partnership with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, places cameras carefully across the Kafue National Park in order to measure population trends in leopard and lion populations. To date, we have set more than 1,000 of our specially designed Panthera Camera Traps.

Each camera is left in place for approximately six weeks, including in areas near Ila Safari Lodge and Chisa Busanga Camp. Operators such as these lodges do vital work to keep the cameras safe and to garner support by explaining their purpose to guests.

Sometimes we even get to share the experience of Camera Trapping with Green Safaris guests, inviting them to get involved as we either set up the camera or go back to collect and admire the pictures taken.

Camera Trapping is a vital conservation tool. Also a hilarious glimpse into the lives of our wild neighbours… is that a Honey Badger taking off with a Pangolin?

Citizen’s Science Program 

Our teams work together to keep up with Lion Populations in the area. Counting carnivores is not particularly easy as they’re often shy, cryptic and occur at naturally low densities. Knowing population densities, distribution, population structure and composition is crucial as it assists with management decisions to ensure what we are doing is having an impact.

In the Kafue, we have come up with a wonderful way to work together with the operators to spread our knowledge net a little wider.

In addition to our camera trapping program and focal monitoring, we have joined together under a “citizens science program” using a search and encounter approach to capture all sightings by guides whenever they are taking tourists out for a safari game drive. Our tag line is “Make every safari count” and the guides are incredible.

Green Safaris Conservation Foundation has been a significant supporter of our efforts in Kafue National Park since the beginning of the program. All Ila and Chisa guides have been part of the program since the very beginning in 2018 providing us with high-quality data and photos to uniquely ID every lion, wild dog and cheetah.

From these guide encounters, we can estimate population size and even calculate home ranges and population structure.

As part of the program every guide is equipped with a special data recording device and a camera, and every safari drive they undertake is called a search and encounter patrol.

This year we were able to calculate lion population densities and found that Lions are almost four times more abundant on the Busanga plains- Hooray! This is where Green Safaris conservation foundation has supported the dedicated Wild Cat antipoaching patrol team since 2019.

Photo by Lucky Mulenga

The Halo Protection Approach

Together with DNPW, our team began a program of in situ protection across intensive protection zones in Zambia – both supported by Green Safaris Conservation Foundation.

Part of the program is to wrap focal protection around key groups and individuals of lions, cheetahs and wild dogs. We call this the “halo protection approach.”
The partnership began in 2018 & reports of snared carnivores within our IPZs dropped to zero almost immediately.
This involves focally monitoring key groups, checking for snares and informing where the patrol teams should be directed to provide the best protection for these groups – especially when denning or mating. In the north, this has been done in partnership with the Zambian Carnivore Program.
We have two dedicated lion monitoring teams one in northern Kafue and one in Southern Kafue.
Green Safaris Conservation Foundation has been a significant supporter of our protection program in Kafue National Park since the beginning, supporting communications across the park. They are currently directly supporting the lion monitoring team, and directly funding the Wild cat antipoaching team dedicated to protecting wildlife on the Busanga Plains.

As a result of our combined efforts, for the first time in the last 6 years Hook bridge pride (also known as Ila pride) has successfully grown cubs into subadults to become part of Kafue’s next generation of lions.

Collaboration with North Carolina Zoo
For 6 years we’ve been focused on the use of Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) for improved monitoring of carnivores in the Kafue ecosystem. This successful partnership expanded to incorporate a vulture monitoring project in October 2021.
Our work consists of tagging and deploying satellite units on White-backed vultures, a critically endangered species. Their wide-ranging movement patterns and social feeding behaviour make them excellent indicators of landscape-level threats, such as poisoning – which also impacts carnivores and therefore supports Panthera’s carnivore monitoring efforts.
In October 2021, we deployed 5 satellite units on White-backed vultures, as well as replicated monitoring transect surveys conducted in 2016. Surveys show that the vulture population is likely stable but with some interesting shifts from Busanga Plains to central Kafue.
From the tagged birds, we found two active nests in central Kafue, with chicks close to fledging, as well as some regularly used roosting and bathing sites. One of the tagged birds has commenced breeding again in May 2022, using the same nest!
As the rains commenced, we saw large seasonal shifts in the birds’ movement with the range expanding from Kafue to parts of the enormous 520,000 km2 Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KZAZ TFCA), which spans 5 countries (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Botswana) (see map for 7 months of data).

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