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Spatial partial identity model reveals low densities of leopard and spotted hyaena in a miombo woodland

Davis, R. S.; Stone, E. L.; Gentle, L. K.; Mgoola, W. O.; Uzal, A.; Yarnell, R. W.


R. S. Davis

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Dr Emma Stone
Senior Lecturer Environmental Biology

L. K. Gentle

W. O. Mgoola

A. Uzal

R. W. Yarnell


Decline in global carnivore populations has led to increased demand for assessment of carnivore densities in understudied habitats. Spatial capture–recapture (SCR) is used increasingly to estimate species densities, where individuals are often identified from their unique pelage patterns. However, uncertainty in bilateral individual identification can lead to the omission of capture data and reduce the precision of results. The recent development of the two-flank spatial partial identity model (SPIM) offers a cost-effective approach, which can reduce uncertainty in individual identity assignment and provide robust density estimates. We conducted camera trap surveys annually between 2016 and 2018 in Kasungu National Park, Malawi, a primary miombo woodland and a habitat lacking baseline data on carnivore densities. We used SPIM to estimate density for leopard (Panthera pardus) and spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) and compared estimates with conventional SCR methods. Density estimates were low across survey years, when compared to estimates from sub-Saharan Africa, for both leopard (1.9±0.19 sd adults/100km2) and spotted hyaena (1.15±0.42 sd adults/100km2). Estimates from SPIM improved precision compared with analytical alternatives. Lion (Panthera leo) and wild dog (Lycaon pictus) were absent from the 2016 survey, but lone dispersers were recorded in 2017 and 2018, and both species appear limited to transient individuals from within the wider transfrontier conservation area. Low densities may reflect low carrying capacity in miombo woodlands or be a result of reduced prey availability from intensive poaching. We provide the first leopard density estimates from Malawi and a miombo woodland habitat, whilst demonstrating that SPIM is beneficial for density estimation in surveys where only one camera trap per location is deployed. The low density of large carnivores requires urgent management to reduce the loss of the carnivore guild in Kasungu National Park and across the wider transfrontier landscape.


Davis, R. S., Stone, E. L., Gentle, L. K., Mgoola, W. O., Uzal, A., & Yarnell, R. W. (2021). Spatial partial identity model reveals low densities of leopard and spotted hyaena in a miombo woodland. Journal of Zoology, 313(1), 43-53.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 4, 2020
Online Publication Date Oct 19, 2020
Publication Date 2021-01
Deposit Date Feb 8, 2022
Publicly Available Date Feb 9, 2022
Journal Journal of Zoology
Print ISSN 0952-8369
Electronic ISSN 1469-7998
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 313
Issue 1
Pages 43-53
Keywords Animal Science and Zoology; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
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