So far so good…
As I have swiftly learnt, doing zebra research in Africa is no picnic. However, I have also come to realize that despite the challenges there is nowhere better I could have chosen to do my Masters dissertation.
I arrived in the Chobe Enclave four weeks ago with big plans. After months of lectures and careful planning at Bristol University, I was finally on my way to starting my research project. In true African style, it didn’t take long for these plans to be turned upside down and inside out. Thankfully, in choosing Wildlife ACT I had also chosen to be part of a team of dedicated staff and students that provided the support I needed to embark on a new and improved project.
The focus of my research is the Chobe National Park’s Savuti zebra population. This population is known to migrate from the grasslands of the Mababe Depression and Savuti Marsh up to the floodplains associated with the Chobe River and Linyanti Swamps. Unfortunately, the number of zebra arriving in the Chobe Enclave for the duration of the dry season has dwindled significantly to a historical low of roughly 8,000 individuals.
The main aim of the study is to investigate the reasons behind such a decrease in this zebra population. This involves establishing their current distribution throughout the months of June and July and determining their use of habitats in the area. The whole team is involved in conducting herbivore transects and opportunistic sightings of the zebra whilst we are out and about. Maps will be created using distributional data for cattle posts, settlements, fences and roads to identify possible barriers to their migratory movements. Finally, information on the historical distribution of this population is being collected through interviews with key informants, including professional hunters and community members of nearby villages.
Hopefully, the final report will shed some light on the causes of the zebra decline. The Chobe Enclave is considered an essential dry season habitat for these animals and it needs to be maintained to ensure the stability and productivity of this population. As the area becomes more developed, people and wildlife will battle for access to space, water and resources, therefore, it is vital that these key dry season habitats are identified and highlighted so that future land use plans can take the movement of these zebra into consideration.
There is a long road ahead and this is Africa! But with the help of everyone here and a lot of hard work this research will be contributing to change.
Written by Josie Hosker
Photographs by Robyn Hartley