Changes of population trends and mortality patterns in response to the reintroduction of large predators: The case study of African ungulates

Large predators have been reintroduced to an increasing number of protected areas in South Africa. However, the conditions allowing both prey and predator populations to be sustained in enclosed areas are still unclear as there is a lack of understanding of the consequences of such reintroductions for ungulate population dynamics. Variation in lion numbers, two decades after their first release, offered a special opportunity to test the effects of predation pressure on the population dynamics of seven ungulate species in the 960 km2 Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park (HiP), South Africa. We used two different approaches to examine predator-prey relationships: the population response of ungulates to predation pressure after accounting for possible confounding factors, and the pattern of ungulate adult mortality observed from carcass records. Rainfall patterns affected observed mortalities of several ungulate species in HiP. Although lion predation accounted for most ungulate mortality, it still had no detectable influence on ungulate population trends and mortality patterns, with one possible exception. This evidence suggests that the lion population had not yet attained the maximum abundance potentially supported by their ungulate prey; but following recent increases in lion numbers it will probably occur soon. It remains uncertain whether a quasi-stable balance will be reached between prey and predator populations, or whether favoured prey species will be depressed towards levels potentially generating oscillatory dynamics in this complex large mammal assemblage. We specifically recommend a continuous monitoring of predator and prey populations in HiP since lions are likely to show more impacts on their prey species in the next years.

Publish DateOctober 6, 2022
Last UpdatedOctober 6, 2022