You might remember the Kibumbu pride from their rather gruesome encounter with a leopard. But probably not – that was a long time ago.

They now have a new claim to fame. As of April 22, 2013, the Kibumbu lions became the first Serengeti pride to bear a GPS collar. GPS collars are cool, but if you are a nerd like me, and trying to calibrate 225 camera traps against the known reality of animal movements, GPS collars are really [expletive deleted] cool.


Daniel collaring a study lion

With regular old radio-collars, we have to get out in the field, driving (seemingly aimlessly to bystanders) in circles on hills until we get a signal in the direction of a given lion pride. With 26 prides being monitored now, we get to each pride about once a week. But with GPS collars, the data comes to US. On it’s own. EVERY HOUR. I can tell you where the lions are without ever leaving my hyena-chewed, baboom-mangled armchair. Data of this richness are simply impossible to get otherwise. I tried a few “all-night follows” – trying to serve as a living GPS collar. Trying to figure out why, when lions are lurking 300 meters from a camera trap, they don’t appear in it. I usually fall asleep by 9pm.  Apparently I don’t make a very good GPS collar.

You might wonder why on earth we don’t have 26 GPS collars, instead of 1. Unfortunately, they are expensive (read >$5,500 a pop), and the battery life doesn’t last as long as regular old VHF collars, meaning we would have to dart lions more often – which is a stress that we like to minimize. But Ingela Janssen had an extra collar from her conservation work in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and the chance of calibrating camera trap captures against hourly lion movements was too good to pass up!

Here’s the first map of Kibumbu’s movements. The first position came in at 6pm on April 22, and the last was recorded on the 23rd at 9pm. Since lions are nocturnal, we take one position every hour from 6pm to 7am, and then one position during the day (at noon). You can see from the lines that lions can move quite a ways without actually getting very far.


Kibumbu’s first GPS recorded movements

And here’s their latest map.

And the last few weeks...

And the last few weeks…

I realize that these graphics don’t give you any sense of where in the study area the lions are.  Until I figure out how to work some really cool magic with Google Earth, here’s a map of where the cameras are. You can see from Kibumbu’s maps that they are hanging out along a (sometimes dry) river – the Ngare Nanyuki – which I’ve circled in red on this camera layout map.


Camera Traps – Ngare Nanyuki River circled

The GPS collar won’t show up until Season 6 camera photos — but it looks a bit different from our normal collars with two big lumps instead of one:


Vectronic GPS collar – stock image

So keep your eyes peeled!


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About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

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