Boots on the ground: in defense of low-tech, inexpensive, and robust survey methods for Africa’s under-funded protected areas

Fred Watson, Paul Schuette, Ngawo Namukonde, Matthew S Becker, Scott Creel, Clive Chifunte, Wigganson Matandiko, Paul Millhouser, Elias Rosenblatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Protected area managers need reliable information to detect spatial and temporal trends of the species they intend to protect. This information is crucial for population monitoring, understanding ecological processes, and evaluating the effectiveness of management and conservation policies. In under-funded protected areas, managers often prioritize ungulates and carnivores for monitoring given their socio-economic value and sensitivity to human disturbance. Aircraft-based surveys are typically utilized for monitoring ungulates because they can cover large areas regardless of the terrain, but such work is expensive and subject to bias. Recently, unmanned aerial vehicles have shown great promise for ungulate monitoring, but these technologies are not yet widely available and are subject to many of the same analytical challenges associated with traditional aircraft-based surveys. Here, we explore use of inexpensive and robust distance sampling methods in Kafue National Park (KNP) (22,400 km2), carried out by government-employed game scouts. Ground-based surveys spanning 101, 5-km transects resulted in 369 ungulate group detections from 20 species. Using generalized linear models and distance sampling, we determined the environmental and anthropogenic variables influencing ungulate species richness, density, and distribution. Species richness was positively associated with permanent water and percent cover of closed woodland vegetation. Distance to permanent water had the strongest overall effect on ungulate densities, but the magnitude and direction of this effect varied by species. This ground-based approach provided a more cost-effective, unbiased, and repeatable method than aerial surveys in KNP, and could be widely implemented by local personnel across under-funded protected areas in Africa.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
StatePublished - 2018

Cite this