OXFORD, United Kingdom — Hyenas, wild dogs, and cheetahs are disappearing from the African savannah, a new study warns.
They are among large carnivores being driven to extinction by habitat loss, persecution by humans, and reduced prey. However, researchers say their plight has been overlooked because of the focus on lions, leopards, and other top predators.
“Research effort is significantly biased towards lions (Panthera leo) and against striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), despite the latter being the species with the widest continental range. African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) also exhibited a negative bias in research attention, although this is partly explained by its relatively restricted distribution,” study authors write in a media release.
The study in the journal PeerJ is the first of its kind, based on a systematic review of population assessments over the last two decades. Identifying knowledge gaps will improve conservation efforts by guiding funding, investment, and priorities.
“Our findings highlight the urgent need for additional cheetah population assessments, particularly in northern, western, and central Africa. Due to their large country ranges, studies in Chad and Ethiopia should especially be considered a priority.”
Are biodiversity studies lacking diversity?
The international team found biodiversity monitoring may not be evenly distributed or occurring where it’s most needed. Computer models showed assessments have been biased, in particular towards South Africa and Kenya. Northern, western, and central Africa are underrepresented.
Most studies have been carried out in tourism areas under government management, non-protected and trophy hunting regions received less attention. Reducing biases would help ensure all species and areas of conservation importance have an adequate knowledge base available, with the potential to improve their outlook.
Specifically, 26 countries currently lack any published estimates, including Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, and Chad. The study found only 59 percent of studies outside South Africa included a co-author from the country being analyzed.
It reinforces suggestions research in developing countries is disproportionately led by scientists from more developed areas. Dr. Paolo Strampelli from the University of Oxford and the rest of the team are calling for donors and foreign researchers to maximize involvement of local scientists, students, and practitioners in future assessments.
This would cover training, funding, and equipment. Donors and funders should encourage efforts in understudied regions and species, the researchers say. This will ensure conservation occurs where it is most needed.
Specifically, population assessments of striped hyena are needed. Further population assessments of African wild dogs are also essential, particularly given that this species is classified as endangered.
Such efforts are especially required in countries that have been identified as critical for the species. No recent assessments have been carried out in some countries, including Botswana and Tanzania.
“As in the case of African wild dog, development and standardization of cheetah population monitoring techniques, including the exploration of citizen-science based approaches, are recommended,” the researchers write.
South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.