Resolving a conservation dilemma: Vulnerable lions eating endangered zebras

Timothy G. O’Brien, Margaret F. Kinnaird, Steven Ekwanga, Christopher Wilmers, Terrie Williams, Alayne Oriol-Cotterill, Daniel Ian Rubenstein, Laurence G. Frank

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

When predators are removed or suppressed for generations, prey populations tend to increase and when predators are re-introduced, prey densities should fall back to pre-con-trol levels. In cases of apparent competition where there are alternate abundant and rare prey species, rare species may decline further than expected or disappear altogether. Recently, concern about the impact of recovering predator populations on wildlife in Laikipia County, Kenya, has led to questions of whether lions (Panthera leo, IUCN Red List Vulnerable) exert top-down pressure on Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi, IUCN Red List Endangered). We examined effects of lion predation on Plain’s zebra (E. quagga, IUCN Red List Near Threatened) and Grevy’s zebra populations in a 2,105 km2 area defined by lion movements. We used line transect surveys to estimate density of Grevy’s (0.71/km2) and Plain’s (15.9/ km2) zebras, and satellite telemetry to measure movements for lions and both zebras. We tracked lions to potential feeding sites to estimate predation rates on zebras. We compared field-based estimates of predation rates on both zebras to random gas models of encounters that result in predation to ask if lions prey preferentially on Grevy’s zebra at a sufficient rate to drive population declines. Lions preyed on Grevy’s zebra significantly less than expected in 15 of 16 (94%) scenarios considered and lions preyed on Plain’s zebras as expected or significantly less than expected in 15 of 16 scenarios. Population trend of Grevy’s zebra indicates that the Kenya population may be stabilizing. Recruitment rate to the population has tripled since 2004, making it unlikely that lions are having an impact on Grevy’s zebras. In Laikipia County, competitive displacement by livestock (Livestock: Grevy’s zebra ratio = 864:1) and interference competition for grass with Plain’s zebra (Plain’s zebra: Grevy’s zebra ratio = 22:1) are most likely the predominant threats to Grevy’s Zebra recovery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0201983
JournalPloS one
Volume13
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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    O’Brien, T. G., Kinnaird, M. F., Ekwanga, S., Wilmers, C., Williams, T., Oriol-Cotterill, A., Rubenstein, D. I., & Frank, L. G. (2018). Resolving a conservation dilemma: Vulnerable lions eating endangered zebras. PloS one, 13(8), [e0201983]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0201983