Okavango Delta, Botswana

Gabriele Cozzi, University of Zurich
Peter Apps, Botswana Predator Conservation
Megan Claase, Botswana Predator Conservation

The Moremi Game Reserve has a long history. It was proclaimed in 1963 – before the decolonization of Botswana – by Elizabeth Purane Moremi, widow of the former Chief Moremi III. and ruler of the taWana territory in the north of the country. By establishing the Moremi Game Reserve, the baTawana people wanted to protect endangered wildlife and conserve the lush landscape at the heart of the Okavango Delta.

In 1989, the African Wild Dog Project was started at the reserve. Originally it was designed to research the behaviour of African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus), yet in three decades, it has turned into an umbrella program, the Botswana Predator Conservation (BPC), for all large predators. Here, Gabriele Cozzi from the University of Zurich and Peter Apps and Megan Claase from BPC installed a camera trap for Triggered by Motion. It is one of five at the site and it is placed within the range of the largest contiguous African wild dog population.

African wild dogs are highly social predators. They move in packs and leave scent markings along the way to mark their territory. Camera traps are used to monitor this behaviour: The footage is analysed to investigate where individuals defecate and urinate and how other dogs react to these markings. Ultimately, the project aims at understanding chemical communication between individuals of the same pack as well as between neighbouring packs.

Researchers at the Botswana Predator Conservation project started working with camera traps a little less than a decade ago. They also rely on GPS collars and direct observation – but only the camera traps allow them to effectively monitor the dogs’ marking sites for several months at a stretch.

This conservation work is much needed. African wild dogs are highly endangered, mainly due to habitat loss and human-predator conflict, as the dogs attack livestock and are therefore killed by farmers and herders. Peter Apps, Gabriele Cozzi, Megan Claase and the team at BPC use the data they collect with the help of camera traps to develop what they call a «BioBoundary»: artificial chemical signals that will keep the packs safely inside the borders of protected conservation areas. Currently, the BioBoundary is the best hope for slowing or reversing the worldwide decline in predator populations that are killed for attacking livestock.

The goal of the Moremi Game Reserve has remained unchanged since its foundation Sixty years ago: To protect wildlife and to maintain flora, fauna, and ecological processes in a state as close to their natural condition as possible.