No place like home | Africa’s big cats show postcode preference

The secret lives of some of Africa’s iconic carnivores, including big cats, are revealed in a new study in Animal Conservation, today.

[UKPRwire, Thu Oct 08 2009] The results shed light on how different habitats are used by some of Tanzania’s most elusive meat eaters, such as the leopard.

Scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) carried out the largest survey of Tanzania’s carnivores, using a novel approach making use of over 400 camera trap locations.

The research reveals that many species, including the leopard, are particularly fussy about where they live, actively avoiding certain areas. Surprisingly, all the species surveyed tended to avoid croplands, suggesting that habitat conversion to agricultural land could have serious implications for carnivore distribution.

“Camera traps provide a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge on habitat use and spatial distribution of otherwise elusive and poorly known species. This methodology represents a powerful tool that can inform national and site-based wildlife managers and policy makers as well as international agreements on conservation,” says Dr Sarah Durant from ZSL.

Until now, many of the species had been under reported because of their nocturnal habits, or because they live in heavily forested areas. The strength of the technique to document habitat preference of elusive species is highlighted by camera trap observations of bushy tailed mongooses – including the first ever records of this species from one of the most visited areas in the country.

These data can also be used to understand how Tanzania’s carnivores may respond to habitat changes caused as a result of environmental change.

“Carnivores are generally thought to be relatively tolerant to land conversion, yet our study suggests that they may be more sensitive to development than previously thought, and that protected areas need to be sufficiently large to ensure that these charismatic animals will roam in Tanzania for the decades to come,’ says Dr Nathalie Pettorelli from ZSL.

She adds: “All species were affected by rivers and habitat, and the analysis provides important information relevant to the examination of future impacts of climate change.”

The project continues to map carnivore distribution across the country, working closely with the wildlife authorities to support local conservationists and to generate information that is used to inform conservation planning.


Editorial Notes

‘Carnivore Biodiversity in Tanzania: revealing the distribution of secretive mammals using camera traps’ will be published online in Animal Conservation on Thursday 8th October. DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2009.00309.x

UK and Tanzanian scientists worked together to accumulate 1,500 records of carnivores gathered over 10,000 camera trap days at more than 400 locations in 11 protected areas.

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research at the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation overseas. For further information please visit

The Wildlife Conservation Society saves wildlife and wild places worldwide. We do so through science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo. Together these activities change attitudes towards nature and help people imagine wildlife and humans living in harmony. WCS is committed to this mission because it is essential to the integrity of life on Earth. Visit:

The Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (TAWIRI) is a parastatal organization established by Act of Parliament of the United Republic of Tanzania No. 4 of 1980, under the name “Serengeti Wildlife Research Institute” (SWRI), with the overall responsibility of carrying out, coordinating and supervising all wildlife research in Tanzania. The original name of the Institute was changed from SWRI to TAWIRI in 1999, by the Act of Parliament No.10, to give its broader meaning and mandate on wildlife research throughout the country. The institute has five research centres countrywide including Gombe, Kingupira, Mahale, Njiro and Serengeti. Our vision is to be a centre of excellence in providing timely and quality scientific information and advice for sustainable wildlife conservation. For further information please visit

The Zoological Society of London’s Animal Conservation journal provides a forum for rapid publication of novel, peer-reviewed research into the conservation of animal species and their habitats. The focus is on rigorous quantitative studies of an empirical or theoretical nature, which may relate to populations, species or communities and their conservation. A central theme is to publish important new ideas and findings that have general implications for the scientific basis of conservation. For further information please visit

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