The main goal is to improve knowledge on African carnivores and develop all scientific studies in to an integrative approach of the ‘Ecology of Predation’, from fossil to modern record, that is to say during the Quaternary time (the last 2.6 Million years).
Our aim is to bring together young and senior researchers involved in different fields of carnivore studies to share existing data and to improve skills and results. It will concern biology, ethology, ecology, genetics, conservation research, paleontology, morphofunction, zooarcheology, taphonomy, linked with detailed information from various types of African ecosystems.
While there are many research projects in Africa focusing on large carnivores, there exists no forum where researchers can share their success and failures. It was against this background in 2012 (with funding from a French organization IRD, see partners) that we initiated formation of a researchers’ network consisting of all specialists working or who often work in Africa in the fields related to large carnivores.
Large carnivores have interacted with humans since pre-historic times. For example, Pleistocene spotted hyenas bone assemblages of Europe and other countries around the world (ex. Felids in South America, and in Africa), are found intermingled with those of Paleolithic humans. This, interaction is thought to have influenced and continues to influence the evolutionary behavior of both humans and the large carnivores. Thus carnivores have been of great interest to archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, social scientists and conservation biologists/ecologists as well as the local communities they interact with. People’s relationship with large carnivores is complex and often conflicting; on the one hand, they are admired and awe inspiring animals while on the other (due to their negative impacts on people and their livelihoods) they are highly detested. They are often targeted for elimination by wildlife managers when they are thought to have a negative impact on a species of high conservation priority such as the rhinoceros or bongo and other ungulates even if the impact is unsubstantiated. As a result, these fascinating animals are among the most endangered of mammals and conservation efforts to expand their numbers require concerted efforts that need to accommodate the divergent perceptions of these important ecological agents. Studies on past (archeological) and modern (historical) carnivore bone modifications and accumulations play a key role in understanding human evolution and their associated paleoenvironmental dynamics. Additionally carnivore bone accumulations inform us about their herbivore prey resources and the associated prevailing environmental conditions at their accumulation sites during their period of deposition.
To understand large carnivores’ evolutionary and social behavior and their ultimate conservation, a combination of research approaches is therefore required. For example carnivore eco-ethological studies can inform evolutionary studies that may put observed carnivore traits into perspective. Similarly, understanding site taphonomic processes are important in the interpretation of paleontological remains and bone assemblages and hence provide greater understanding of paleoecology and faunal dynamics during the Quaternary period. While the role of carnivores in helping understand human and faunal evolution has long been recognized, there exists no forum (especially in Africa) where researchers involved in carnivore research can come together to exchange ideas and focus upon common area of interest.
We therefore, here propose to strengthen our carnivores’ researchers’ project, bringing together researchers from various fields of specialization, aimed at creating a body of studies and forum for exchange of ideas necessary for the (i) understanding human-carnivore interactions (with modern ‘proxies’ transferred to fossils) and (ii) interpreting prey-predator dynamics for sustainable carnivore conservation. Focusing on carnivore alone cannot be done in isolation, but their prey base and habitat requirements need also to be studied. Research approaches to understanding carnivore evolution and their interactions with prey and humans have been improving over time (e.g. through the use of isotopes to reconstruct diet); the results of such investigations need to be shared and their merits and limitations discussed.
Similarly, conservation approaches of large carnivores are diverse with various goals that sometimes lead to formulation of conflicting carnivore management strategies. This is understandable given that each research project has to meet certain set objectives – whether they are known to be in conflict with other conservation research strategies or not. However, this is not consistent with sustainable carnivore conservation because some strategies recommend total carnivore elimination. Hence, sustainable carnivore conservation requires integrated multidisciplinary approaches that balance the various interest groups’ conservation objectives.
Therefore, this project will be used as a platform to integrate modern, paleontological and zooarchaeological approaches to understand human-carnivore interactions over time and space (starting from African examples/site with future enlargement and integration with other data from other continents) and develop approaches to sustainable recent carnivore conservation as well as nurture skills of upcoming researchers through the senior researchers who will be involved.
This project focused on Africa with yield large area of wildlife conservation (park, reserve) and a rich carnivore guild, which can also be compared to ancient ecosystem in Eurasia (Pleistocene); indeed, in the Pleistocene record of Europe and Asia, species as lions, panthers, hyenas, large canids were present associated to a diversified ungulates community (from small to very large). Then Affric faunal communities have in some extend some similarity with other continents during Quaternary times. Our work can interest many scientists working in different places in the world (with topics human-animal-environment interactions, prey-predator dynamics, etc.)