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Comparable space use by lions between hunting concessions and national parks in West Africa


Mills, Kirby et al. (2020), Comparable space use by lions between hunting concessions and national parks in West Africa, Dryad, Dataset,


  1. Spatially varied resources and threats govern the persistence of African lions across dynamic protected areas. An important precursor to effective conservation for lions requires assessing tradeoffs in space use due to heterogeneity in habitat, resources, and human presence between national parks and hunting areas, the dominant land-use classifications across their range.
  2. We conducted the largest camera survey in West Africa, encompassing 3 national parks and 11 hunting concessions in Burkina Faso and Niger, equating to half of the 26,500-km2 transboundary W-Arly-Pendjari (WAP) protected area complex. We combined occupancy and structural equation modeling to disentangle the relative effects of environmental, ecological, and anthropogenic variables influencing space use of Critically Endangered lions across 21,430 trap-nights from 2016-2018.
  3. National parks are intended to serve as refuges from human pressures, and thus we expect higher lion occupancy in national parks (NPs) compared to neighboring hunting concessions (HCs). But because prey availability drove lion occupancy and was comparable between NPs and HCs, lions exhibited no spatial response to management type. Prey availability was primarily influenced by edge effects and natural water availability. Furthermore, water availability and habitat diversity were higher in HCs, possibly outweighing disturbances from higher human occupancy and road density.
  4. Synthesis and applications. We found that lions exhibited no avoidance hunting concessions, despite higher human occupancy than in neighboring national parks. This may be due to the lions’ heavy reliance on depleted prey populations and preferred habitat characteristics in hunting concessions. We provide potential management interventions to indirectly influence lion space use, such as enhancing water availability and reducing human disturbance at park edges. Our findings provide insight into lion habitat preferences in a system degraded by human pressures and prey depletion, aiding in the understanding of management’s role in the ecology and conservation of charismatic species such as the West African lion.