Key factors and related principles in the conservation of large African carnivores


  • Editor: KH

Correspondence author.


  1. Large carnivores are a critical component of Africa's biodiversity, and their conservation requires a clear understanding of interactions between large carnivores and people.
  2. By reviewing existing literature, we identify 14 key factors that influence large African carnivore conservation, including ecological (biodiversity conservation, interspecific competition, ranging behaviour, ecological resilience, prey availability, livestock predation, disease and population viability), socio-economic (people's attitudes and behaviours and human costs and benefits of coexistence with large carnivores) and political (conservation policy development and implementation, conservation strategies and land use zoning) factors.
  3. We present these key factors in a model illustrating the levels of impact on large African carnivore conservation.
  4. We identify the key principle that underpins each factor and its implications for both large carnivore conservation and human–carnivore conflict.
  5. We provide a synthesis of the key factors and related principles in large African carnivore conservation and highlight the importance of the site-specific and species-specific context in conservation policy and implementation, formulated through an interdisciplinary and adaptive approach.


Despite conservation efforts, large carnivore numbers continue to decline globally (Anonymous 2010a). Significant failures have occurred, notably, the extinction of three tiger Panthera tigris subspecies within the past 50 years (Weber & Rabinowitz 1996). The large African carnivore guild is made up of seven species (Dalerum et al. 2008) with declining populations, which are classed as follows by the International Union for Conservation of Nature: African wild dogs Lycaon pictus are ‘Endangered’, cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus and lions P. leo are ‘Vulnerable’, leopards P. pardus and striped hyaenas Hyaena hyaena are ‘Near Threatened’, brown hyaenas H. brunnea are ‘Lower Risk, Near Threatened’ and spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta are ‘Least Concern’ (Anonymous 2010a). Being endemic to Africa, however, the spotted hyaena is given the third highest conservation priority in Africa, following that of the endangered Ethiopian wolf Canis simensis and African wild dog (Mills et al. 2001). We excluded the striped hyaena from this review since it is considered the northern equivalent of the brown hyaena (Estes 1995).

The difficulty with conservation of large carnivores is that they inflict considerable socio-economic costs on people (Treves & Karanth 2003, Thirgood et al. 2005), and human–carnivore conflict is the main cause of large carnivore population declines (Woodroffe et al. 2005b). Nonetheless, a growing number of cases show that large carnivore conservation can be successful if the approach is coordinated on international, regional, national and local levels and effectively addresses both ecological and human aspects involved (Weber & Rabinowitz 1996, Marker 2008, Gusset et al. 2008b, Balme et al. 2009).

Our aim is to review the literature on the conservation of large African carnivores and identify and synthesize the key factors, associated principles and implications for conservation and human–carnivore conflict. This synthesis is essential to guide objectives and policies for successful long-term conservation of large African carnivores and crucial for biologists, sociologists, bureaucrats and politicians that are responsible for balancing the needs of people with the conservation of large carnivores.

Key Ecological Factors and Principles

Biodiversity conservation

Key principle

Africa's large carnivore guild per se is a critical component of biodiversity (Mills 2005, Woodroffe & Ginsberg 2005) because each species has a different prey spectrum (Hayward & Kerley 2008) whose diverse impacts increase resilience of ecosystems (Miller et al. 2001, Worm & Duffy 2003).

Conservation implication

Conservation of intact guilds is a higher priority than conservation of single large carnivore species (Woodroffe & Ginsberg 2005).

Human–carnivore conflict implications

  1. A wider range of conflict mitigation strategies are required to conserve a large carnivore guild than are required to conserve any single species.
  2. The loss of large carnivores in an ecosystem can result in mesopredator release of smaller carnivore species, which may introduce, exacerbate or alter the scope of local human–carnivore conflict (Treves & Naughton-Treves 2005, Gusset et al. 2009b).


Quantitative data supporting large African carnivores as keystone species are lacking (Dalerum et al. 2008), but many researchers agree that predation shapes large mammal food webs and that the diverse, highly flexible interactions between predator and prey are vital components of biodiversity (Mills 2005, Dalerum et al. 2008, Owen-Smith & Mills 2008). Species in the large African carnivore guild have different preferred prey or prey weight ranges (Hayward & Kerley 2008). In addition, herbivores can distinguish between potential predators and may avoid risky habitats as an antipredator strategy (Thaker et al. 2011). Thus, one carnivore species cannot act as a substitute for another in the diverse trophic processes in African ecosystems (Woodroffe & Ginsberg 2005).

A loss of large carnivores in an ecosystem can allow smaller predators to undergo an ecological release (Palomares & Caro 1999, Crooks 2002). On South African farmlands, after the extirpation of large carnivores, populations of black-backed jackal C. mesomelas and caracal Caracal caracal increased such that they became threats to livestock (Beinart 1998, Stadler 2006). In areas not suitable for conservation of intact large carnivore guilds, the consequences of conserving an incomplete guild, such as potential mesopredator release, should therefore be addressed in conservation strategies.

Conserving an intact guild complicates human–carnivore conflict since the behaviour of carnivore species differ, and conflict mitigation necessitates a species-specific approach.

Interspecific competition among large carnivores

Key principle

Interspecific competition can exert a strong influence on large carnivore distribution and density (Creel et al. 2001, Johnson & VanDerWal 2009) and can increase the local extinction risk of subordinate competitors (Hayward & Kerley 2008).

Conservation implications

  1. Densities of subordinate competitors tend to be low in areas with high densities of dominant competitors, thus habitat-level and species-level approaches are needed to conserve intact guilds of large African carnivores (Creel et al. 2001).
  2. Species-specific conservation efforts beyond protected areas (national parks and game reserves) become important if high levels of interspecific competition inside protected areas hamper conservation of subordinate competitor populations (Marker & Dickman 2004, Hayward & Kerley 2008).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Unprotected areas with low densities of dominant competitors can provide refuge areas to subordinate competitors if conflict with people can be reduced.


In Africa, lions and spotted hyaenas are dominant competitors that restrict the distribution and density of cheetahs, African wild dogs and brown hyaenas (Mills 1982, Laurenson et al. 1995, Creel & Creel 1996, Durant 2000b). Interspecific competition also occurs between lions and spotted hyaenas, but the intensity depends on prey availability (Hayward 2006, Watts & Holekamp 2009). Leopards are generally least affected by interspecific competition because their behavioural and dietary flexibility enables them to coexist with other large predators (Karanth & Sunquist 2000, Marker & Dickman 2005).

Cheetahs, African wild dogs and brown hyaenas avoid their dominant competitors by ranging widely and using areas where few lions and spotted hyaenas occur (Mills & Gorman 1997, Durant 2000a, Creel et al. 2001). Thus, in areas where the aim is to conserve these three species as part of the carnivore guild, it is important to have a mosaic of high and low densities of dominant competitors. A mosaic can be achieved by maintaining the status quo in areas with naturally low numbers of lions or spotted hyaenas, by actively managing for lower numbers of dominant competitors (Van Dyk & Slotow 2003, Lindsey et al. 2004b) by manipulating prey availability (Hayward et al. 2007a), or by a managed reduction of dominant competitors.

Interspecific competition is the main reason why cheetahs can not be conserved in many protected areas across their range in Africa, since these areas tend to have high ungulate densities that support high densities of lions and spotted hyaenas (Durant 1998, Marker & Dickman 2004). Farmlands, however, where densities of dominant competitors tend to be low, and where small to medium-sized wild game still occur in sufficient numbers, can form critical conservation habitats for cheetahs (Marker & Dickman 2004) and African wild dogs (Woodroffe et al. 2007b). Mitigation of human–carnivore conflict will be critical to conservation efforts in these areas.

Carnivore range

Key principle

The wide-ranging behaviour of large carnivores increases their potential contact with people and thus their exposure to conflict.

Conservation implications

  1. The furthest ranging carnivores determine the minimum size of conservation areas (protected areas and any other government, communal or private land where land is used mainly for wildlife and is partially protected) needed to protect the guild, and a few large conservation areas are better than many small ones (Woodroffe 2001).
  2. Where protected areas are too small to contain the movements of the large carnivores they aim to protect, the effective conservation area needs to be increased, or conservation fences can be constructed to reduce the ranging behaviour of large carnivores.

Human–carnivore conflict implications

  1. Species-specific conflict mitigation strategies are required for large carnivores that range beyond protected areas in the absence of conservation fences.
  2. Non-lethal conflict mitigation is a priority where human-caused mortalities negatively impact on the viability of large carnivore populations, and the importance of non-lethal conflict mitigation increases with proximity to protected areas.


Resource distribution, and in particular prey availability, is the primary factor that determines the ranging behaviour of large carnivores (Gittleman & Harvey 1982, Van Orsdol et al. 1985, Grant et al. 2005, Hayward et al. 2009), followed by interspecific competition that strongly contributes to the ranging behaviour of subordinate competitors (Durant 1998, Creel 2001). Home range size and ranging behaviour thus differ both among carnivore species and among habitats (Hemson 2003, Hayward et al. 2009, Valeix et al. 2010). Among carnivores, e.g. lion home ranges cover 116 ± 5 km2 (mean ± standard deviation; n = 6), spotted hyaenas cover 91 ± 10 km2 (n = 6) and a solitary leopard cover 38 km2 in the Addo Elephant National Park, South Africa (Hayward et al. 2009). Among habitats, spotted hyaena ranges vary from 13 km2, where there is sufficient sedentary prey, to over 1000 km2 in areas with low prey density (Trinkel et al. 2006). Spotted hyaenas also undertake long extraterritorial trips to reach migratory prey (Höner et al. 2005).

The smaller a protected area is in relation to the home ranges, the greater the proportion of the population that ranges beyond the boundary and comes into contact with people. Resultant conflict can lead to high mortality of carnivores that creates population sinks around the boundary of the protected area (Davidson et al. 2011). This edge effect is a major threat to carnivore populations inside protected areas worldwide (Woodroffe 2001). An edge effect can also be created by unsustainable off-take close to protected areas (Loveridge et al. 2007). Where the extent and impact of edge effects threaten the conservation of protected populations, creating conservation buffer zones with non-lethal conflict strategies and managing human activities around protected area boundaries are essential (Balme et al. 2010).

An alternative strategy to reducing conflict around protected areas is the incorporation of conservation fences. Fencing for conservation is designed to separate biodiversity from the factors threatening it and has some substantial risks (notably, genetic isolation and spatial limitation; Hayward & Kerley 2009, Hayward & Somers 2012, de Tores & Marlow 2012). However, metapopulation management has been largely successful in ameliorating these risks in South Africa (Davies-Mostert et al. 2009, Gusset et al. 2009a, Marnewick et al. 2009, Lindsey et al. 2011), where conservation fencing is required wherever large, dangerous mammals occur (Hayward 2012, Slotow 2012). Even the risk of inbreeding in isolated protected areas has been solved via metapopulation management (Kettles & Slotow 2009, Trinkel et al. 2010).

Ecological resilience

Key principle

Large carnivore species and populations have different levels of ecological resilience to human-caused habitat fragmentation (Purvis et al. 2001, Woodroffe 2001, Crooks 2002).

Conservation implications

  1. The site-specific ecological resilience of each large carnivore population needs to be determined.
  2. Large carnivores with low ecological resilience have a high risk of local extinction, and their conservation requires larger contiguous habitats with lower negative human impacts than do more resilient species.

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Effective legal protection and the reduction of human-caused mortality is a priority for large carnivore populations with low ecological resilience.


Ecological resilience is influenced by biological traits such as body size, resource specialization, social structure, fecundity and behaviour (Purvis et al. 2001, Crooks 2002). The strongest influence, though, is human persecution, which impacts carnivore populations (Linnell et al. 2001, Woodroffe 2001, Gusset et al. 2008a).

The two species of large African carnivores that appear to have the lowest resilience to human-caused habitat fragmentation are African wild dogs and lions. Wild dogs have a highly specialized social structure with cooperative breeding (Creel et al. 2007). They also are highly visible as diurnal pack hunters that, in most populations, specialize on medium-sized prey (Hayward & Kerley 2008). Interspecific competition, especially inside protected areas, combined with human conflicts, lead to precipitous declines of their populations and keep African wild dogs throughout their range at very low densities in shrinking, isolated groups that are highly prone to local extinctions (Creel et al. 2007). Wild dogs are habitat generalists that can move over vast distances between resources, tend to avoid human habitations and can subsist on small prey (Woodroffe et al. 2007b). Therefore, farmlands have a high potential as conservation areas for them and may provide vital corridors (Woodroffe 2010).

Conversely, lions are hunter-scavengers, have a high population growth rate compared with other large carnivores and can persist in relatively small areas (Druce et al. 2004, Kettles & Slotow 2009). Yet, they are the least successful large carnivore outside conservation areas (Woodroffe 2001), and their densities decrease with distance from conservation areas (Ogutu et al. 2005, Schiess-Meier et al. 2007). This is mainly because the lion is the carnivore that kills most people in Africa (Sillero-Zubiri & Laurenson 2001) and, in many areas, the principal predator of large livestock (Anonymous 2006), resulting in nearly ubiquitous lethal human–lion conflict (Frank et al. 2006). Even in Masailand in East Africa, which is home to the largest contiguous lion population in Africa, lions outside protected areas are in imminent danger of being extirpated by pastoralists (Anonymous 2006, Frank et al. 2006). Consequently, survival of lion populations is increasingly dependent on conservation areas (Woodroffe 2001).

Cheetahs, like African wild dogs, are threatened by low population densities, interspecific competition and conflict with people (Anonymous 2007). Their ecological resilience, however, is increased by traits such as their mostly solitary behaviour, high mobility, habitat flexibility (Bissett & Bernard 2007), diverse prey base (Hayward et al. 2006b) and ability to reproduce rapidly from an early age (Kelly et al. 1998). In Namibia and Botswana, where the largest continuous cheetah population in Africa occurs, more cheetahs persist on farmlands than inside protected areas (Klein 2007, Marker et al. 2007). Nevertheless, conflict with farmers remains the biggest threat to cheetahs throughout their range (Purchase et al. 2007), and training farmers in integrated livestock–wildlife management practices combined with non-lethal conflict mitigation is crucial to cheetah conservation (Marker et al. 2008).

Leopards and spotted hyaenas have high ecological resilience and occur widely in human-altered landscapes: they are predominantly nocturnal with broad diet ranges and exhibit great behavioural flexibility that enables them to hunt or scavenge individually and to alter their behavioural response to human activity (Boydston et al. 2003, Hayward 2006, Hayward et al. 2006a, Kolowski et al. 2007).

Brown hyaenas generally seem to benefit, at least to some extent, from living in proximity to people and continue to occur in stable viable populations throughout southern Africa (Maude & Mills 2005). They are predominantly scavengers with a wide-ranging diet (Mills & Hofer 1998), and livestock carcasses can form a reliable and abundant food source in agricultural areas (Maude & Mills 2005). Since brown hyaenas are almost entirely nocturnal, very secretive, rarely vocalize and are usually difficult to find, persecution by people has little effect on their overall population size (Mills 1990). Educating farmers about the foraging behaviour of brown hyaenas is important, to change their perception of the threat that brown hyaenas pose to livestock and to minimize conflict.

Prey availability

Key principle

Prey availability governs the movements, abundance and population viability of large carnivores (Karanth & Stith 1999, Fuller & Sievert 2001, Hayward et al. 2007b).

Conservation implications

  1. The availability of appropriately sized prey plays a major role in determining the suitability of an area for the conservation of large carnivores (Fuller & Sievert 2001, Lindsey et al. 2004b, Hayward & Kerley 2008).
  2. Prey availability can be used to predict carrying capacities for large carnivores in restricted areas, where management is necessary to prevent overpopulation of carnivores and unsustainable impacts on prey (Hayward et al. 2007b).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Changes in wild prey availability can be used to predict trends in livestock depredation, enabling managers to implement timely conflict mitigation measures.


Strong linear relationships exist between the density of African large carnivores and the biomass of their natural prey (Hayward et al. 2007b). Whereas high levels of human-related mortality and interspecific competition can exert a strong influence on carnivore densities and distribution (Hayward & Kerley 2008, Burton et al. 2011 ), prey availability is probably the primary natural determinant (Fuller & Sievert 2001). Prey availability affects large carnivore reproduction and recruitment (Fuller & Sievert 2001), foraging behaviour (Hanby et al. 1995, Höner et al. 2005, Balme et al. 2007) and movements (Hayward et al. 2009).

Coexistence among large African carnivores despite a high level of dietary overlap is facilitated by spatial partitioning (Mills & Gorman 1997, Bissett & Bernard 2007), temporal partitioning in hunting activity (Hayward & Slotow 2009) and selection for different age classes of the same prey species (Mills 1990).

Seasonal changes in wild prey abundance often influence human–carnivore conflict (Fuller & Sievert 2001, Frank et al. 2005). Lions in Botswana's Makgadikgadi move closer to human habitation and livestock grazing areas when their migratory wild prey is scarce (Hemson 2003). It is essential to understand the effect of changes in prey availability on the foraging behaviour of large carnivores to plan and prioritize conflict mitigation when and where conflict is likely to increase, thus allowing for more efficient allocation of limited resources.

Livestock predation

Key principle

Livestock predation by large carnivores is the most widespread cause of conflict, and retaliatory killing by people is one of the most serious threats to carnivore survival (Thirgood et al. 2005, Woodroffe et al. 2005b).

Conservation implication

Minimizing livestock predation by large carnivores is a key conservation priority.

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Understanding livestock predation by large carnivores is vital in order to implement socially just, practical and cost-effective conflict mitigation (Karlsson & Johansson 2010).


The frequency of predation on livestock by large carnivores depends on a range of biological and human factors (Stahl et al. 2001, Woodroffe & Frank 2005, Kolowski & Holekamp 2006), as the following examples illustrate.

Density and distribution of carnivore species

Lions are often the main culprits in livestock depredation (Ogada et al. 2003, Patterson et al. 2004, Lagendijk & Gusset 2008), although the frequency of attacks may decrease with distance from protected areas (Schiess-Meier et al. 2007, Van Bommel et al. 2007). Leopard attacks, in Botswana's Khutse District at least, are independent of distance from the nearest protected area (Schiess-Meier et al. 2007) indicating that leopards there are resident and lions transient. Spotted hyaenas at high densities can cause more stock losses than lions and leopards combined (Kolowski & Holekamp 2006).

Livestock prey preferences

Lions can kill any species of livestock and are the only carnivore species that regularly kills adult cattle, horses and donkeys (Butler 2000, Ogada et al. 2003, Schiess-Meier et al. 2007). Leopards, spotted hyaenas, cheetahs and African wild dogs tend to kill goats and sheep (Mizutani 1999, Marker 2001, Woodroffe et al. 2005a, Kolowski & Holekamp 2006) and occasionally take calves and foals (Hofer 1998, Rasmussen 1999, Butler 2000, Ogada et al. 2003, Schiess-Meier et al. 2007). African wild dogs, however, occasionally kill adult cattle (J. Horgan, personal communication).

Timing and location of livestock predation

Lions, leopards and spotted hyaenas tend to attack livestock in enclosures at night (Ogada et al. 2003, Patterson et al. 2004, Holmern et al. 2007), whereas cheetahs and African wild dogs mainly predate on stock grazing during the day (Ogada et al. 2003, Woodroffe et al. 2005a) reflecting their activity patterns (Hayward & Slotow 2009). An occasional brown hyaena has been observed digging underneath traditional kraals and killing goats (D. R. Mills, personal observation).

Behaviour of individuals

In Africa, habitual individual killers of livestock have been identified in lions (Stander 1990, Funston 2001, Bauer & De Iongh 2005, Woodroffe & Frank 2005), leopards (Mizutani 1993) and cheetahs (Marker et al. 2003a). Translocating habitual stock-raiding lions into protected areas has failed to keep them from returning to kill livestock, and lethal removal of the individuals is recommended to avoid the spread of such behaviours (Funston 2001, Frank et al. 2006).

Seasonal variation

Livestock predation is linked to variations in wild prey availability and can peak at any time of the year (Butler 2000, Hemson 2003, Patterson et al. 2004, Schiess-Meier et al. 2007), depending on the distribution and movement of prey (Van Bommel et al. 2007).

Habitat differences

Livestock attacks by leopards and lions are more likely in dense bush that provides better cover for ambush than in open habitats (Woodroffe et al. 2007a).

Wild prey availability

Most large carnivores take wild prey in preference to livestock and subsist mainly on wild prey even when livestock is more abundant (Mizutani 1999, Hemson 2003, Marker et al. 2003c, Frank et al. 2006, Ogara et al. 2010). In an area of 5700km2 of communal and private land in Kenya's Laikipia District, livestock predation by African wild dogs costs residents around US$3.40/wild dog/year where wild prey occur, but where wild prey is seriously depleted, the costs rise to US$389/wild dog/year (Woodroffe et al. 2005a). Maintaining wild prey populations outside protected areas as part of integrated livestock–wildlife management practices can divert carnivore pressure away from domestic livestock (Mizutani 1999, De Azevedo & Murray 2007) and may provide an incentive for communities to protect their local wildlife (Cozza et al. 1996).

Husbandry practices

Herding, enclosure design and deterrents can reduce depredation levels, but the most effective practices vary between carnivores and areas (Woodroffe & Frank 2005, Frank et al. 2006, Woodroffe et al. 2007a, Balme et al. 2009). For example, domestic dogs C. lupus familiaris are effective in deterring cheetahs and African wild dogs (Marker et al. 2005), and domestic dogs with a gathering of people often discourage lions from attacking livestock in enclosures (Ogada et al. 2003). However, domestic dogs are generally ineffective in deterring leopards and spotted hyaenas (Kolowski & Holekamp 2006). Bush-fenced enclosures are more effective in excluding leopards than pole-fenced enclosures that provide good footholds for climbing, but pole fences are effective against spotted hyaenas (Kolowski & Holekamp 2006). Confining livestock in enclosures may lead to surplus killing because livestock cannot escape, and their panicked movements repeatedly stimulate a carnivore's killing instinct (Nowell & Jackson 1996, Ogada et al. 2003, Patterson et al. 2004). In Botswana, two lions killed 43 goats and a leopard killed 36 goats in one night (Hemson 2003, D. P. Mills, personal observation), and in South Africa, one leopard killed 51 sheep and lambs in one incident (Stuart 1986).

All these examples demonstrate the importance of understanding, on a local level, the factors that influence livestock predation. Realistic site-specific and species-specific strategies are needed to reduce the vulnerability of livestock to large carnivore predation, and livestock losses can be reduced by conflict mitigation and better husbandry practices (Ogada et al. 2003, Woodroffe et al. 2007a, Balme et al. 2009, Stein et al. 2010). However, conflict will always occur where people, livestock and carnivores coexist, and conflict mitigation will remain an ongoing process. It is also important to put conflict in perspective; farmers may perceive large carnivore depredation to be the main problem even though the major cause of livestock losses is poor management and disease (Mizutani 1999, Rasmussen 1999, Dar et al. 2009).

Another source of human–carnivore conflict is large carnivore predation of commercially farmed game (Sillero-Zubiri & Laurenson 2001, Marker et al. 2003b, Selebatso et al. 2008). It is difficult to mitigate this type of conflict since free-ranging farmed game can not easily be protected against carnivores. The establishment of conservancies where such economic losses are shared among several farms or which allow consumptive use of carnivores on game farms may help to provide incentives for farmers to tolerate some large carnivores on their game farms (Linnell et al. 2005, Marker 2008).

Wildlife disease

Key principle

Disease outbreaks can devastate small, localized large carnivore populations (Macdonald 1993, Funk et al. 2001, Cleaveland et al. 2002, Dybas 2009).

Conservation implications

  1. Disease management is especially important in small populations of large carnivores (Woodroffe et al. 2004).
  2. Translocation of large carnivores may pose a serious risk of disease transmission into naive populations (Hofmeyr et al. 2000).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Large carnivore populations can act as sources of disease that threaten human health and livestock; this may therefore exacerbate conflict with people (Macdonald 1993, Funk et al. 2001, Butler et al. 2004, Hugh-Jones & Blackburn 2009).


Pathogens can be viewed as keystone species (Power et al. 1996) that impact directly and indirectly on other organisms (Peterson 1999, Mouritsen & Poulin 2002). Carnivore population declines from disease normally result from a ‘spill over’ of generalist pathogens from common species (Cleaveland et al. 2002).

The greatest disease concerns in large African carnivore populations are canine distemper and rabies (Butler et al. 2004, Laurenson et al. 2004, Dybas 2009). Alone, canine distemper is not a serious threat to large populations of lions but, for example, in the Serengeti in 1994, simultaneous outbreaks of canine distemper and babesiosis – caused by a tick-borne blood parasite Babesia that infects Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer – killed more than 1000 lions (Dybas 2009).

Generally, the primary reservoir that maintains rabies cycles is the domestic dog. Domestic dogs were probably the source of rabies outbreaks that decimated populations of both African wild dogs and Ethiopian wolves (Gascoyne et al. 1993, Sillero-Zubiri et al. 1996, Cleaveland et al. 2002, Butler et al. 2004, Dybas 2009). In central Namibia, the primary reservoir of rabies is black-backed jackals (Courtin et al. 2000). Striped jackals C. adustus are also common vectors (Butler et al. 2004).

Rabies is a serious problem in Africa where around 25000 people die from the disease each year (Dybas 2009). Habitat loss and fragmentation increase contact between large carnivores, people and domestic dogs and result in a higher risk of disease transmission (Scott 1988, Saunders et al. 1991, Forman 1995). Large African carnivores contribute sporadically to the circulation of rabies as non-maintenance populations (Lembo et al. 2008), and rabid carnivores can fatally attack people and livestock (Shah & Jaswal 1976).

Epidemiological data are lacking to develop appropriate disease management strategies in carnivore populations (Funk et al. 2001, Cleaveland et al. 2002, Laurenson et al. 2004). Current options are: (i) do nothing; (ii) reduce disease in reservoir species through vaccination, culling and sterilization; (iii) reduce the disease in host species through vaccination and treatment; and (iv) prevent contact between host species and reservoir species through barriers or by restraining the movements of the domestic reservoir (Laurenson et al. 1997, Hudson et al. 2002, Woodroffe et al. 2004, Rhyan & Spraker 2010). Scientific research should be combined with monitoring to evaluate disease management options, identify limitations and develop effective adaptive strategies (Funk et al. 2001).

Carnivore population viability

Key principle

The effective size of a carnivore population has a strong influence on its long-term viability.

Conservation implications

  1. Maintaining large carnivore populations at sizes large enough to ensure viability in the long term improves their resilience to environmental variations and stochastic events.
  2. Monitoring the factors that impact on population size is essential (Beissinger & Westphal 1998, Balme et al. 2009, Caro et al. 2009, Kettles & Slotow 2009).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

High levels of human-caused mortality may disrupt the social systems of large carnivores to the extent that it impacts negatively on population size (Packer & Pusey 1984, Whitman et al. 2004, Balme et al. 2009).


Habitat loss and human-caused mortality are two key factors that affect the viability of large carnivore populations. Habitat loss results in small, fragmented carnivore populations and increases their vulnerability to local extinctions due to events such as overexploitation, environmental and demographic stochasticity and catastrophes (Woodroffe 2001). It also increases the risk of disease through increased potential contact between carnivores and domestic animals (Funk et al. 2001, Cleaveland et al. 2002, Woodroffe et al. 2004) and may lead to a decrease in genetic heterogeneity, which is a major threat to long-term viability for most mammalian taxa occurring at small to moderate population sizes (i.e. less than a few thousand individuals; O'Brien et al. 1985, Packer et al. 1991, Roelke et al. 1993, O'Grady et al. 2006, Traill et al. 2010). Population links via transfrontier parks, conservancies and corridors that allow the free movement of migrants and increase effective population sizes are vital to prevent inbreeding depression (Schwartz & Mills 2005). Small, geographically isolated subpopulations can be managed as one large metapopulation by artificially maintaining population links (Lindsey et al. 2004a).

Population viability may also be jeopardized when high levels of human-caused mortality in large carnivore populations with specialized breeding systems lead to social disruptions such as increased intraspecific fighting, infanticide and lower fecundity (Courchamp & Macdonald 2001, Whitman et al. 2007, Balme et al. 2009). It is therefore important to understand the interaction between human-caused mortality and behavioural ecology of large carnivores (Balme et al. 2009, Caro et al. 2009).

Methods are needed to estimate population demographics reliably, and data should be collected to understand the site-specific ecology and population dynamics of large carnivores. Long-term monitoring is necessary to assess risks to large carnivore populations, determine potential management options and evaluate the impact of conservation actions to facilitate informed decisions using adaptive management (Johnson et al. 2001, Sutherland et al. 2004).

Key Socio-Economic Factors and Principles

People's attitudes and behaviour towards large carnivores

Key principle

Positive attitudes of people towards conservation are important, but a positive attitude does not necessarily translate into tolerance for large carnivores, and it is the behaviour of people that ultimately determines the local extinction risks of large carnivores (Woodroffe 2000, Linnell et al. 2001, Loveridge 2005).

Conservation implication

Conservation of large carnivores depends on the long-term change of people's behaviour from antagonistic to supportive (Marker & Dickman 2004).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

A clear understanding of the reasons for people's unwillingness to support conservation efforts (Waylen et al. 2010) and their intolerance towards large carnivores is central to developing conflict mitigation strategies that facilitate positive change in human behaviour (Mattson et al. 2006).


People's attitudes towards wild mammals are generally determined by basic wildlife values (e.g. aesthetic, cultural, symbolic, utilitarian), perception of species and education, knowledge and understanding of conservation issues (Kellert et al. 1996, Hutton & Leader-Williams 2003, Marshall et al. 2007, Bath et al. 2008). Rural people typically view wild mammals in terms of their resource value (e.g. meat or economic value; Lamarque et al. 2009). When a species has no tangible value, negative attitudes become strongly associated with real or perceived losses due to it, such as loss of agricultural land, prevention of natural resource use and damage to livelihoods (Mbaiwa et al. 2008, Lamarque et al. 2009).

People's behaviour, on the other hand, is largely determined by a combination of factors relating to their personal situation (e.g. self-sufficiency, resources, skills, wealth), psychological factors (e.g. motivation, character) and value-based factors (moral and social norms; Barr 2003). A combination of attitudinal and behavioural factors determines whether and how people choose to conserve, exploit or eradicate natural resources (Caro 1999, Anonymous 2000, Lagendijk & Gusset 2008).

People who rely on livestock for their livelihood are the least inclined to tolerate large carnivores (Mishra 1997, Patterson et al. 2004, Frank et al. 2005). Livestock is a source of food, clothing and income. It also constitutes people's savings and social standing in African communities, and the emotional value of livestock is commonly more important than its monetary value (Loveridge 2005). People continue to kill predators even when they are not suffering direct losses (Marker et al. 2003c), based on their perceptions and knowledge of large carnivores as a potential threat to safety and livelihoods.

Rural African people often fail to support wildlife conservation because: (i) protected areas have little direct value to any but a privileged few (Hutton & Leader-Williams 2003, Baldus 2006); (ii) wildlife and conservation may be a symbol of government control (Wilshusen et al. 2002); (iii) wild mammal species that are perceived as threats are protected even outside protected areas (Stander 1991); and (iv) human–carnivore conflict strategies are unacceptable to the people who are affected (Cozza et al. 1996). People's behaviour is also strongly affected by the way wildlife authorities deal with carnivore control (Loveridge 2005, Lagendijk & Gusset 2008, Balme et al. 2009).

Human behaviour can change, and the challenge is to understand the psychological and sociological factors behind current behaviour and what is needed to effect change (Clayton & Myers 2009). Conservation education programmes are an integral part of large carnivore conservation, but active programmes must be continuous to have a lasting impact on people's attitudes (Gusset et al. 2008a, Marker 2008). Knowledge alone does not generally affect human behaviour (Barr 2003, Selebatso et al. 2008, Kaplan & Kaplan 2009), and local conservation efforts must be based on a clear understanding of the social, economic and cultural situations and must adapt accordingly (Barr 2003, Clayton & Myers 2009, Waylen et al. 2010).

Large carnivore costs

Key principle

People who coexist with free-ranging large carnivores bear the brunt of conservation costs.

Conservation implication

Conservation will fail where large carnivores continue to inflict heavy costs on rural people (Stander 1991, Gazzola et al. 2008).

Human–carnivore conflict implications

  1. Costs people have to bear where large carnivores occur must be accurately determined and effectively addressed, if conflict mitigation strategies are to be effective.
  2. The conservation needs of large carnivores must justify the costs of conservation and the costs to people coexisting with these predators.


For people, coexistence with large carnivores may result in direct costs (e.g. actual losses suffered), indirect costs (e.g. fear, time, effort to prevent damage by carnivores) and opportunity costs (e.g. acquiring potential incomes are prevented by the presence of carnivores; Thirgood et al. 2005).

In Tanzania and Mozambique, lions kill 50–70 people/year (Packer et al. 2005, Lamarque et al. 2009). Loss of human lives affects not only the victims but also has grave psychological and economic consequences for families and communities (Lamarque et al. 2009). Most lion attacks are by healthy animals and occur when rural people are farming, protecting livestock and crops against wildlife, using natural resources and sleeping (Treves & Naughton-Treves 1999, Baldus 2006, Lamarque et al. 2009).

The most common economic cost inflicted by large carnivores is livestock predation (Thirgood et al. 2005). The loss of an animal includes the additional loss of revenue through by-products such as milk, cheese, wool and offspring (Mertens & Promberger 2001). For large commercial operations, annual economic losses relative to total stock value are likely to be low. For example, a conservancy adjacent to Tsavo East National Park, Kenya, loses 3% of its herd's total economic value to attacks by wild mammals (mainly lions and elephants Loxodonta africana). The ranchers are prepared to tolerate a population of approximately 26 adult lions whose diet consist for 6% of livestock, which cost the ranches US$290/lion/year (Patterson et al. 2004). For rural people, livestock losses to large carnivores are often small compared with losses to disease or theft (Cozza et al. 1996, Mizutani 1999, Patterson et al. 2004, Graham et al. 2005, Schiess-Meier et al. 2007), but even small levels of depredation can be devastating (Mizutani 1993, Oli et al. 1994, Mishra 1997, Rasmussen 1999, Mech et al. 2000, Gusset et al. 2008a, Dar et al. 2009). Livestock owners in seven villages adjacent to the Serengeti National Park, Tanzania, lose on average 19% of their annual cash income due to livestock predation, mainly by spotted hyaenas (Holmern et al. 2007).

As long as people believe that they are bearing the brunt of carnivore conservation costs without any benefits to themselves, the future of large carnivores remains in serious jeopardy.

Large carnivore benefits

Key principle

The incentive for people to coexist with large carnivores depends on whether the benefits of coexistence offset the costs.

Conservation implication

Making large carnivores valuable to people outside protected areas is an essential conservation goal (Lewis & Alpert 1997, Marker & Dickman 2004, Lindsey et al. 2005, Loveridge 2005, Anonymous 2006, Stein et al. 2010).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Providing tangible long-term and sustainable net benefits to people who tolerate large carnivores should be included in conflict mitigation strategies.


Large carnivores can provide both direct and indirect benefits to many rural communities. Tanzanian crop farmers, e.g. have a high tolerance for lions where they perceive that lions benefit them by controlling the bush-pigs Potamochoerus larvatus that destroy their crops (Packer et al. 2006).

The main direct benefit and probably the most desired, widely attainable and long-term sustainable goal is economic gain through wildlife-based tourism, which has additional benefits such as employment, skills development, value-added income and social services (Gössling 1999, Hutton & Leader-Williams 2003, Lindsey et al. 2007, Hoole 2010, Mbaiwa & Stronza 2010). In Africa, wildlife tourism is a fast-growing industry and large carnivores are a priority on most visitors' list of animals to see (Macdonald & Sillero-Zubiri 2002, Gusset et al. 2008a). Botswana's travel and tourism industry, for instance, was expected to generate US$1.36 and 25700 jobs in 2010 (Anonymous 2010b). To be attractive to rural people, wildlife conservation must generate tangible net benefits, include them in resource ownership and management decisions, provide a clear link between the benefits gained from wildlife and the need to conserve it and, in terms of large carnivores specifically, provide equitable benefits (Sillero-Zubiri & Laurenson 2001, Scanlon & Kull 2009). An honest accounting by the wildlife tourism industry should exist to determine its negative impacts on people and environments (Isaacs 2000) and should address factors that inhibit the tourism industry from fulfilling its conservation goals.

The Namibian conservancy model is proving increasingly successful in providing a mutually beneficial coexistence between farmers and large carnivores. Community conservancies provide people with ownership of and user rights for wildlife, the independence to live traditional lifestyles, the potential to obtain food and cash income from consumptive use, direct economic gains from wildlife tourism and indirect benefits from employment and capacity building (Anonymous 2008). Successful conservancies promote an integrated livestock–carnivore management approach with education and training in effective livestock and range management techniques and carnivore identification, behaviour and conservation. The result is effective conflict mitigation combined with large carnivores having an economic value. The outcome is a changed perception of large carnivores and support for their conservation (Marker 2008). In addition, the marketing of ‘predator-friendly beef’, so that Namibian farmers with ecologically sound husbandry practices receive a premium price for their product, encourages them to tolerate predators (Marker 2003). This both provides a direct monetary benefit to farmers and actively involves them in large carnivore conservation.

Compensation for livestock losses is designed to offset damage caused by carnivores. Unfortunately, government-based compensation schemes often fail, largely because of bureaucratic delays in investigating cases and compensation payments (Nyhus et al. 2005, Ogra & Badola 2008, Gusset et al. 2009b, Lamarque et al. 2009). Potentially more effective are approaches that are decentralized and include performance-based schemes dependant on appropriate livestock husbandry practices (Dyar & Wagner 2003, Hemson 2003, Swenson & Andrén 2005), insurance for livestock in which owners pay a premium to cover losses (Kasaona 2009) and privately funded compensation schemes (Maclennan et al. 2009), all of which operate on a local level and are strictly governed. Financial compensation is seldom enough to change people's behaviour positively towards large carnivores in the long term, because it does not address the social and cultural impacts of livestock depredation (Wilshusen et al. 2002). It is also expensive to maintain, and when such an incentive is stopped, motivation for behavioural change diminishes (Clayton & Myers 2009).

A variety of opportunities exist for people to benefit from coexisting with large carnivores. For these opportunities to result in positive change in human behaviour, site-specific analyses are necessary to determine the most suitable benefits people can derive from large carnivores. In addition, accurate evaluations are needed to determine the impact of these benefits on human behaviour.

Key Political Factors and Principles

Conservation policy development and implementation

Key principle

Large carnivore conservation policies must be based on problem definitions that deal with the ecological, social and political processes involved (Clark et al. 1996) and should convert promptly into adaptive strategies and actions (Reyers et al. 2010).

Conservation implication

Stakeholders need to commit to a process of collaborative problem definition to formulate policy development and implementation (Seidensticker et al. 1999, Woodroffe 2000, Hutton & Leader-Williams 2003, Treves & Karanth 2003, Loveridge 2005, Selebatso et al. 2008).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Failure to develop interdisciplinary and adaptive problem definitions to guide conservation policies will lead to a lack of support for or resistance from people towards conservation efforts (Mattson et al. 2006, Gusset et al. 2009b).


The traditional approach to the development of conservation policies defines problems mainly from an exclusive ‘people first’ or ‘wildlife first’ standpoint, both of which are inadequate when applied to the complex conservation challenge posed by large carnivores (Ascher & Healy 1990, Clark et al. 1996). Instead, conservation policies are needed that provide for the ecological and social scales (Cumming et al. 2006): international policies, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; regional policies, such as the Regional Conservation Strategy for Lions in Eastern and Southern Africa (Anonymous 2006); national policies, such as each country's wildlife legislation; and local policies, which make provision for the implementation of adaptive strategies (Clayton & Myers 2009). The implementation of policy at different ecological and social scales is dependent on matching it with the appropriate hierarchical level in institutions that have the power, mandate and resources to take action (Cumming et al. 2006).

The foundation of policy development is problem definition; it ultimately guides and shapes actions chosen to provide solutions (Laswell 1971, Dery 1984, Weiss 1989, Clark et al. 2001). The process of defining problems includes identifying differences of perspectives and points of shared aims among stakeholders and ultimately reaching consensus on the true problems (Clark et al. 1996). This enables decision-makers to form policies and design problem-solving strategies that are in concurrence with governments and their international and national responsibilities, with interest groups and with the people whose lives and livelihoods are affected by conservation actions. The competing interests of concerned stakeholders make this a complex process.

In the case of large carnivore conservation, the main stakeholders are political decision-makers, conservationists and people living with free-ranging large carnivores. In addition, it is vital to include social scientists and conservation psychologists in the collective process (Mascia et al. 2003) to facilitate collaboration among stakeholders with conflicting interests. Unfortunately, there remains a lack of a cohesive approach despite the considerable knowledge available (Clayton & Myers 2009, Kaplan & Kaplan 2009, Reyers et al. 2010, Waylen et al. 2010).

The conversion of conservation policies into action remains inadequate (Reyers et al. 2010). In terms of large carnivore conservation, poorly designed policies and the corporate culture of bureaucracies that tend not to perform well with the complex, urgent and often novel nature of the conservation challenge (Clark et al. 1989, Finlayson & McMahon 1994) are part of the problem. Non-governmental organizations, on the other hand, tend to have the capacity, skills and resources for speedy assistance, rapid assessment programs and can design innovative conservation actions and play an important role in the implementation of conservation plans (Mascia et al. 2003, Slotow & Hunter 2009).

To be effective, large carnivore conservation policies and action plans must be based on scientific research, continuous monitoring and evaluation in terms of desired outcomes, and adaptive strategies that are evidence based (Gusset et al. 2008b). The decision-making processes must be flexible and result in prompt, practical actions (Clark & Brunner 1996, Primm & Clark 1996, Clark et al. 2001, Sutherland et al. 2004, Karanth & Chellam 2009).

Conservation strategies

Key principle

Governments and people decide the ultimate fate of large carnivores.

Conservation implication

Large carnivore conservation requires an approach that balances the need for legal protection of large carnivores with the use of natural resources by rural people for their livelihoods (Hutton & Leader-Williams 2003, Abensperg-Traun 2009, Andrew-Essien & Bisong 2009).

Human–carnivore conflict implication

Conflict mitigation is vital to reduce human-caused mortality of large carnivores and should be one of governments' conservation goals to enable the coexistence between people and large carnivores.


Two contrasting approaches to biodiversity conservation have emerged: the protectionist approach (conservation through enforced laws) and the people-oriented approach (integrated conservation and sustainable use). Protectionists maintain that protected areas form the last safeguard of biodiversity against human encroachment, that sustainable development is unattainable and that top-down approaches to conservation are preferable (Oates 1999, Rabinowitz 1999, Terborgh 1999).

Although maintaining protected areas is an essential requirement for conservation, and such areas are primary refuges for many large carnivores worldwide (Mills 1991, Karanth & Chellam 2009), protected areas and legal protection, both at international and national levels, have thus far failed to prevent declines in large carnivore populations; in Africa, the endangered African wild dog and cheetah are good examples (Weber & Rabinowitz 1996, Marker & Dickman 2004). The protectionist approach underplays the complex socio-economic and political realities involved in conservation and fails to account for the consequences of the approach – that it is operationally unrealistic and morally questionable (Wilshusen et al. 2002).

In Africa, the people living outside protected areas decide the ultimate fate of wide-ranging large carnivores (Woodroffe 2001, Ogada et al. 2003, Marker & Dickman 2004, Frank et al. 2006) because: (i) top-down conservation approaches generally lead to rural people feeling marginalized and resentful towards protected areas because of the loss of land and livelihoods (Andrew-Essien & Bisong 2009); and (ii) the failure of governments to address human–carnivore conflicts adequately puts the onus on rural people to protect their livelihoods, often through illegal activities, deepening their antagonism towards conservation in general. Most human–carnivore conflict in Africa occurs along protected area boundaries (Loveridge 2005), and unless the support of rural people is garnered, the negative impact of conflict on many large carnivore populations means that conservation will at best be nominal even inside protected areas (Woodroffe 2001).

Integrated conservation and sustainable use are successful in many cases (Sillero-Zubiri & Laurenson 2001, Balme et al. 2009, Child 2009, Mbaiwa & Stronza 2010). Sustainable use can play a complementary role as one component of a broader landscape conservation strategy and is an economical and political option to make viable the use of large tracts of land primarily for wildlife (Wilshusen et al. 2002, Langholz & Kerley 2006, Sachedina & Nelson 2010). Unfortunately, people-oriented approaches often flounder not because of any fundamental incompatibility with biodiversity conservation and human development but because of shortcomings in their implementation (Wilshusen et al. 2002, Abensperg-Traun 2009).

Consequently, the exclusive reliance on either legal protection or a universal application of sustainable use will inevitably fail to protect biodiversity (Hutton & Leader-Williams 2003). Conservation, irrespective of geography or taxa, depends on the ability of governments to integrate the needs of biodiversity conservation with the needs of people (Abensperg-Traun 2009, Andrew-Essien & Bisong 2009). Legitimate and enforceable integrated conservation strategies are needed that are ecologically sound, pragmatically feasible and socially just (Wilshusen et al. 2002). In addition, due to their complex nature, such strategies should be implemented, facilitated and monitored on an interdisciplinary basis (Reid et al. 2009), using successful models as guidelines and providing relevant information to the literature to increase the long-term success of this approach.

Land use zoning

Key principle

Zoning is an important land use management tool that complements the conservation mission of protected areas and can be vital for some wide-ranging large carnivore populations.

Conservation implications

  1. Land use zones with wildlife conservation as one of their primary goals can be used to enlarge conservation areas beyond protected areas that are too small to contain the movements of the carnivores they aim to protect.
  2. Wildlife conservation zones can provide important dispersal corridors.

Human–carnivore conflict implication

The expansion of wildlife conservation zones around small protected areas can move the interface of human–carnivore conflict away from protected area boundaries, thereby increasing the protection of source populations of large carnivores (Linnell et al. 2005, Loveridge 2005).


The existing conservation network in Africa covers the distribution of large mammals relatively well and contributes significantly to biodiversity conservation (Fjeldså et al. 2004). However, wide-ranging large carnivores need larger areas than other terrestrial species, and edge effects around protected areas make this network on its own inadequate to conserve many large carnivore populations (Weber & Rabinowitz 1996, Loveridge et al. 2001). Edge effects are especially severe where the primary land use bordering a protected area is livestock farming, where human–carnivore conflict is rampant (Loveridge 2005, Schiess-Meier et al. 2007, Van Bommel et al. 2007). Additional conservation zones, if appropriately managed, can act as buffer zones where the edge effect around the protected area boundary is reduced and the threat of local extinctions for source populations is lowered.

Conservation zones can support a variety of land use practices such as wildlife management (with wildlife use), forest management and integrated livestock–wildlife management. In Botswana, most community and state wildlife management areas are adjacent to protected areas; they contribute an additional 20% to the 17% of land designated for wildlife conservation (Mogae 1997). Some wildlife management areas with naturally low densities of lions and spotted hyaenas provide important refuge areas for cheetahs and African wild dogs. Livestock areas can also be potential conservation zones (e.g. the Namibian community conservancy model; Marker 2008). These conservancies employ integrated livestock-wildlife land management that leads to improved land productivity, higher wildlife densities, increased connectivity between areas for wildlife movements and increasing viability of Namibia's protected area network (Weaver & Skyer 2003). They also play a crucial role in the conservation of cheetahs (Marker et al. 2007). Both the wildlife management area and conservancy models prove successful in changing land use patterns in some of Africa's arid and semi-arid communal areas towards more environmentally appropriate patterns and also lead to improved livelihoods (Weaver & Skyer 2003, Mbaiwa & Stronza 2010).

A pragmatic and morally defendable approach to large carnivore conservation outside conservation areas is important. Not all areas are suitable and not all carnivore species can be conserved as viable populations outside conservation areas. Therefore, legal protection of these populations will probably only result in their continued persecution by people and lead to public resentment and alienation of support for other conservation projects (Stander 1991). The question that needs to be asked is: in which areas is the conservation of large carnivores operationally realistic and morally defendable (Loveridge 2005)?

If the importance of people's livelihoods is recognized, then a sensible way of zoning includes areas with complete protection of large carnivores, areas where people and large carnivores can coexist and areas where large carnivores are not tolerated (Linnell et al. 2005, Loveridge 2005). Thus, in areas where it is impossible to offset the human cost of coexisting with large carnivores by acceptable benefits, then human interests should be given preference and carnivores should be controlled in the most humane and cost-effective ways possible (Anderson & Pariela 2005, Treves & Naughton-Treves 2005).


The 14 key factors identified in this review as features of large African carnivore conservation reflect the breadth and scope of the systems that collectively may lead to the successful conservation of large carnivores. Thirteen of the key factors can be illustrated as a rainbow of layers in a model, one over the other (Fig. 1). The immediate factors have the most direct impact on large carnivore conservation and the factors further away from the centre, although of equal importance, have a more gradual impact. The innermost layers represent priority ecological requirements that have the potential to promote or hinder the persistence of large carnivores. These ecological requirements are dependent on the following layer, the socio-economic key factors, which represent the value that people living in proximity to large carnivores place on them. The outermost layer contains the overarching political conditions that ultimately set the scene for activities that support large carnivore conservation. The 14th factor, biodiversity conservation, should be considered in conjunction with the 13 factors illustrated in Fig. 1 to determine the details of a conservation strategy.

Figure 1.

A model of 13 of the 14 key ecological, socio-economic and political factors and associated levels of impact on the long-term conservation of African large carnivores. The 14th factor, biodiversity conservation, should also be included to determine a conservation strategy.

All key factors are interrelated, and the importance of individual factors depends on the species of large carnivore in a site-specific context. Activities designed to improve large carnivore conservation are likely to be less effective if they focus on one key factor without complementary action to influence a linked factor in another layer. The conservation and human–carnivore implications guide the implementation of the key principles in large carnivore conservation policies, conservation strategies and actions.

Although this review focused on the large African carnivore guild, the model, key principles and conservation and human–carnivore conflict implications are generally relevant to large carnivore conservation worldwide.


Thanks to Peter J. Apps, Jesse M. Kalwij, Scott Hygnstrom and Helen Apps for their valuable contributions. This manuscript was partly funded by the Botswana Wildlife Management Association, Maun, Botswana, and made possible by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Gaborone, Botswana.