Skip to main content
SLU publication database (SLUpub)

Research article2021Peer reviewed

Response of lion demography and dynamics to the loss of preferred larger prey

Vinks, Milan A.; Creel, Scott; Schuette, Paul; Becker, Matthew S.; Rosenblatt, Elias; Sanguinetti, Carolyn; Banda, Kambwiri; Goodheart, Ben; Young-Overton, Kim; Stevens, Xia; Chifunte, Clive; Midlane, Neil; Simukonda, Chuma


Large carnivores are experiencing range contraction and population declines globally. Prey depletion due to illegal offtake is considered a major contributor, but the effects of prey depletion on large carnivore demography are rarely tested. We measured African lion density and tested the factors that affect survival using mark-recapture models fit to six years of data from known individuals in Kafue National Park (KNP), Zambia. KNP is affected by prey depletion, particularly for large herbivores that were preferred prey for KNP lions a half-century ago. This provides a unique opportunity to test whether variables that explain local prey density also affect lion survival. Average lion density within our study area was 3.43 individuals/100 km(2) (95% CI, 2.79-4.23), which was much lower than lion density reported for another miombo ecosystem with similar vegetation structure and rainfall that was less affected by prey depletion. Despite this, comparison to other lion populations showed that age- and sex-specific survival rates for KNP lions were generally good, and factors known to correlate with local prey density had small effects on lion survival. In contrast, recruitment of cubs was poor and average pride size was small. In particular, the proportion of the population comprised of second-year cubs was low, indicating that few cubs are recruited into the subadult age class. Our findings suggest that low recruitment might be a better signal of low prey density than survival. Thus, describing a lion population's age structure in addition to average pride size may be a simple and effective method of initially evaluating whether a lion population is affected by prey depletion. These dynamics should be evaluated for other lion populations and other large carnivore species. Increased resource protection and reducing the underlying drivers of prey depletion are urgent conservation needs for lions and other large carnivores as their conservation is increasingly threatened by range contraction and population declines.


African lion; anthropogenic; Kafue; population density; prey depletion; recruitment; survival

Published in

Ecological Applications
2021, Volume: 31, number: 4, article number: e02298
Publisher: WILEY