What is a carnivore?
A carnivore is a meat-eating animal or plant that hunts, traps or scavenges for its food. The most well-known African carnivores are iconic large predators like Lions and Leopards.
Threats to carnivores
Africa’s carnivores are highly celebrated by almost all cultures and attract tourists from all over the world. However, these animals are also in great danger. The main threats they face are habitat destruction and loss of safe spaces in which they are not impacted or threatened by humans. Habitat fragmentation by barriers such as fences or roads is also a significant threat. These barriers prevent animals from reaching other populations to breed. When this happens, animals breed with close relatives, otherwise known as inbreeding. The result is a loss of genetic diversity within populations, weakening their health and ability to evolve adaptations to survive environmental changes brought on by climate change and other human impacts.
Furthermore, people trade carnivores illegally as pets or for their body parts. They also use their skins for fashion, decoration, and religious or status symbols. Bones, particularly lion bones, may be used in traditional medicine and are in demand across Africa and globally. They are increasingly threatened by the illegal wildlife trade, which is particularly damaging and challenging to address. Lions are often poisoned to obtain these parts, which often kills dozens or even hundreds of other scavengers in the process. The conflict between people and carnivores is also a serious threat and is the primary driver of carnivore population declines across Africa. Conflicts often occur because people fear for their safety or when carnivores kill their livestock. This sometimes results in the revenge killing of carnivores.
Our focal carnivore species
Some of the world’s best-known and loved carnivores live in southern Africa. These include the mighty African Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, and Spotted Hyaena. Unfortunately, many of our carnivores are also among the most Endangered mammals in Africa. The three key species we focus on are the African Wild Dog (Lycaon pictus), Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), and the African Lion (Panthera leo).
African Wild Dog
African Wild Dogs, also known as Painted Wolves, are very social animals, living in large packs where each dog plays a role. Wild Dogs are Africa’s second most Endangered carnivore after the Ethiopian Wolf. They have disappeared from 25 of the 39 countries they once roamed, and only around 1,400 breeding Wild Dogs remain. As such, they are classified as Endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species (hereafter the Red List).
Renowned as the fastest land animal in the world, a Cheetah can reach 112 km/hr in just three seconds! Its body has evolved for speed, with long legs, a long spine, claws adapted to grip, and a long tail for balance. Cheetahs face several threats, such as conflict-related killing, removal for captive trade, habitat fragmentation, and snares and have disappeared from 95% of their historical range. In fact, they are considered extinct in 29 countries in southern Africa. Several factors, including habitat loss and human conflict, have contributed to the disappearance of Cheetahs. They are classified as Vulnerable on the Red List.
The roar of the mighty African Lion is one of the most iconic sounds of the African bush and can be heard up to 8 km away. Lions live in groups called prides, with up to 20-30 individuals. As the top predators in their ecosystem, they have adapted to catch prey bigger, faster, and stronger than them. As such, they also outcompete other large carnivores. Sadly, lion numbers are dropping across the African continent. Fortunately, the South African lion population is stable or increasing in major reserves. Although lions are listed as Least Concern, they do not occur outside of formally protected areas in South Africa.
Lions face similar threats to other large carnivores, but there has been an increase in targeted poisoning of Lions in protected areas and captive facilities. Because body parts and bones had been removed from the poisoned animals, we suspect a growing demand for these products in the illegal wildlife trade.
The Endangered Wildlife Trust has conserved South African carnivores since it was founded in 1973. Carnivores are so central to the EWT’s work that the Cheetah pawprint is our logo. The EWT works to reduce threats to carnivores, including addressing conflict between carnivores and people. A key component of this approach is continuous engagement with communities, providing education on carnivores, raising awareness of their importance, threats they face, and solutions to reduce conflict between carnivores and people. We protect existing carnivore populations by using near-real-time monitoring systems to identify Wild Dog packs in danger from snares and human-wildlife conflict, and we recover lost range across the continent. We help to maintain the genetic diversity of recovered populations that cannot disperse naturally due to barriers like fences and densely populated human landscapes by relocating offspring to reserves with unrelated individuals. To reduce the impact of potentially devastating poisoning events, we work with the EWT’s Vultures for Africa Programme to provide Poison Intervention Training for rangers and reserve managers. We use a holistic approach to address all threats to carnivores so that our work is effective and sustainable.
The African Wild Dog Range Expansion Project
In 1997, the EWT established the Wild Dog Range Expansion Project under the direction of the Wild Dog Advisory Group. The project focused on expanding Wild Dog safe space in South Africa by developing a feasibility assessment and partnering with reserves that meet the requirements for Wild Dog reintroduction. Newly formed packs of dogs are relocated to the respective reserve and closely monitored following their release. The initial goal was to secure nine packs in the first ten years, but this was achieved in the first five. By 2018, there were thriving packs in 16 reserves outside Kruger National Park. This presented the opportunity to team up with the Gorongosa Project, Karingani Game Reserve, and African Parks to expand this work into five reserves across Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. Now, the project boasts 1,5 million ha of safe space for Wild Dogs in southern Africa and a Wild Dog population that has increased by 344 individuals. We have identified ten other African reserves in advanced stages of recovery that may soon be ready for the return of Wild Dogs. We will continue to work with partners to return these threatened mammals to landscapes where they have been eradicated and recover a further 1,5 million ha of Wild Dog safe space by 2025.
The Greater Kruger Wild Dog Project
There are around 350 Wild Dogs in the Kruger National Park (KNP) today. This is the largest connected population in southern Africa. As they roam across their home ranges, Wild Dogs may leave the park and enter high-risk areas where they can be caught in snares or catch diseases from domestic dogs. We monitor these dogs using a near-real-time monitoring platform developed in collaboration with Contemplate Wild. We use cloud computing to track collared packs and compare their locations to a continuously updated risk map of the area. The team receives an alert when a pack enters a high-risk area, and we know to check it for snares or to vaccinate the dogs. This way, we can make the most of our limited time and resources.
Wild Dog and Cheetah Census
In 1989/90, the EWT initiated the first Wild Dog photographic census in the Kruger National Park and has repeated these counts every four/five years since then. Through the census, the EWT and SANParks call on visitors to the park to help count the park’s Wild Dogs and Cheetahs by submitting photographs of animals seen across the park. Each animal has different markings, like our fingerprints. We use these to tell different individuals apart, enabling us to count them. Repeated population estimates allow us to track trends and population health over time. By continuously tracking these changes, we can recommend and implement conservation interventions when the populations are declining. We have monitored the Wild Dog population from a high of 400 individuals in 1995 to 120 in 2009 and back to 250 in 2022.
Cheetah Range Expansion Project
The EWT focused its early Cheetah conservation work on human-carnivore conflict and the illegal trade in Cheetah for pets and their skin. In 2011, we launched our Cheetah Range Expansion Project to increase Cheetah numbers by addressing the impacts of historic habitat loss and human conflict on Cheetah populations. In 2017, we expanded the project’s focus to include other countries in southern Africa by working with African Parks to return Cheetahs to Liwonde National Park, Malawi. Since then, we have worked with African Parks, the Peace Parks Foundation, the Ivan Carter Foundation, and Karingani Game Reserve to successfully reintroduce Cheetahs to parks and reserves in Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia. We established this project with 217 Cheetahs on 41 reserves in South Africa, and as of June 2022, the project included 470 Cheetahs on 65 reserves, covering over 2 million ha of safe Cheetah space throughout southern Africa.
Livestock Guarding Dog Project
The persecution of predators by humans, particularly in the form of retaliation killings by farmers who may have lost livestock to predators, places large carnivores, mainly Leopards, in grave danger. We work closely with livestock farmers through our Livestock Guardian Dog (LGS) Project to place guarding dogs with livestock to protect them from carnivores that try to kill them. The dogs are placed with livestock herds when they are still puppies and grow up with their herd, bonding with and becoming protective of the livestock. Once LGDs reach adulthood and can defend the herd from predators, losses to predators in protected herds drop to nearly zero, making this one of the most effective non-lethal mitigation methods available. Since 2008, we have placed 238 LGDs with over 200 farmers across various commercial and rural communities in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, Free State, and KZN.
Our Livestock Guarding Dog Project has successfully reduced losses from protected herds from an average of 6.7 livestock per year to almost zero. We now have 113 dogs actively protecting their livestock and a waiting list of farmers who see the value and savings they bring. Since these farmers are no longer losing livestock, they no longer kill carnivores in retaliation and actually alert us to predators that are snared or killed. We are also trialling alpacas, which have proven to be effective guardian animals in other areas. Watch this video to see our Livestock Guarding Dog in action. Learn more by downloading our Predators and Farmers booklet.
Great Limpopo Transfrontier Lion Conservation Project
In 2020, the EWT, SANParks, the National Administration of Conservation Areas in Mozambique, the Mozambique Wildlife Alliance, and Peace Parks Foundation initiated a project to monitor lion prides across the GLTFCA using GPS satellite collars. The project was established in response to an increase in the targeted poisoning of lions and harvesting of lion parts for the wildlife trade. Monitoring lion prides allows us to identify priority lion areas. Consequently, we can predict where the big cats are likely to be and when and how we can protect them. Poachers use similar information to target lions more effectively over time, and this system helps anti-poaching teams stay ahead of them.
We have also proudly hosted the IUCN SSC Cat Specialist Group’s African Lion Database since 2018. We use this up-to-date database to compile information on lion ecology and conservation from various research and government bodies. This improves the abilities of authorities to make informed decisions regarding Lion conservation. This project is supported by the Lion Recovery Fund and the National Geographic Society.
Stories of Success
Since the Wild Dog Range Expansion Project started, safe space for Wild Dogs in southern Africa has increased to over 1.4 million hectares, and their numbers and genetic health have followed suit. In 2017, the EWT, the Carr Foundation, and Gorongosa scientists conducted the first international reintroduction of Wild Dogs into Mozambique. Subsequently, we introduced another pack in 2019. Today Gorongosa National Park boasts a population of 135 Wild Dogs. Similar success followed in Karingani Game Reserve, where a pack of 13 that was introduced kickstarted a population now comprising 39 Wild Dogs. In 2021, we successfully transferred 14 Wild Dogs from South Africa and Mozambique to Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve in a historic project to reintroduce this Endangered species to Malawi. The Wild Dogs that were sourced were all a product of successful reintroductions.
In May 2017, we expanded our impact to the southern African region by working with African Parks to reintroduce Cheetahs into rewilded reserves in Malawi, where they were eradicated 30 years prior. Our first wild Cheetah reintroduction outside of South Africa was to Liwonde National Park, Malawi. This founder population subsequently bred from four to 19 individuals to date. Following this, we made further reintroductions into Majete Wildlife Reserve (Malawi, 2019), Bangweulu Game Management Area (Zambia, 2020), Coutada 11 in the Zambezi Delta (Mozambique, 2021), and Maputo National Park (Mozambique, 2021).
Thanks to our new near-real-time monitoring system, we removed 22 snares from dogs in and around the Greater Kruger area in 2021, compared to only four in the previous 12 months. We saved 20 of these dogs. Every individual counts in a landscape with only 350 Wild Dogs.
how you can help carnivores
There are many ways to help protect our carnivores. These include:
- Don’t visit captive facilities that offer cub petting or activities such as walking with carnivores
- Be sure to support nature reserves where you can see these animals in their natural habitats
- If you see any of these species, especially if they are outside a Protected Area, contact us
- Please report any illegal or suspicious behaviour that you think may threaten our carnivores to the EWT, email us here.