Ungulate populations face declines across the globe, and populations are commonly conserved by using protected areas. However, assessing the effectiveness of protected areas in conserving ungulate populations has remained difficult. Using herd size data from four years of line transect surveys and distance sampling models, we modeled population densities of four important herbivore species across a gradient of protection on the edge of Zambia's South Luangwa National Park (SLNP) while accounting for the role of various ecological and anthropogenic variables. Our goal was to test whether protection was responsible for density dynamics in this protection gradient, and whether a hunting moratorium impacted herbivore densities during the studies. For all four species, we estimated lower densities in partially protected buffer areas adjacent to SLNP (ranging from 4.5-fold to 13.2-fold lower) compared to protected parklands. Density trends through the study period were species-specific, with some species increasing, decreasing, or remaining stable in all or some regions of the protection gradient. Surprisingly, when controlling for other covariates, we found that these observed differences were not always detectably related to the level of protection or year. Our findings highlight the importance of accounting for variables beyond strata of interest in evaluating the effectiveness of a protected area. This study highlights the importance of comprehensively modeling ungulate population density across protection gradients, identifies lands within an important protection gradient for targeted conservation and monitoring, documents prey depletion and expands our understanding on the drivers in a critical buffer area in Zambia.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)