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Seasonal movements and habitat use of African buffalo in Ruaha National Park, Tanzania.


BACKGROUND:Assessing wildlife movements and habitat use is important for species conservation and management and can be informative for understanding population dynamics. The African buffalo (Syncerus caffer) population of Ruaha National Park, Tanzania has been declining, and little was known about the movement, habitat selection, and space use of the population, which is important for understanding possible reasons behind the decline. A total of 12 African buffalo cows from four different herds were collared with satellite transmitters. Movements were assessed over 2 years from 11 animals. RESULTS:The space use of the individual collared buffaloes as an approximation of the 95% home range size estimated using Brownian bridge models, ranged from 73 to 601 km2. The estimated home ranges were larger in the wet season than in the dry season. With the exception of one buffalo all collared animals completed a wet season migration of varying distances. A consistent pattern of seasonal movement was observed with one herd, whereas the other herds did not behave the same way in the two wet seasons that they were tracked. Herd splitting and herd switching occurred on multiple occasions. Buffaloes strongly associated with habitats near the Great Ruaha River in the dry season and had little association to permanent water sources in the wet season. Daily movements averaged 4.6 km (standard deviation, SD = 2.6 km), with the longest distances traveled during November (mean 6.9 km, SD = 3.6 km) at the end of the dry season and beginning of the wet season. The shortest daily distances traveled occurred in the wet season in April-June (mean 3.6 km, SD = 1.6-1.8 km). CONCLUSION:The Great Ruaha River has experienced significant drying in the last decades due to water diversions upstream, which likely has reduced the suitable range for buffaloes. The loss of dry season habitat due to water scarcity has likely contributed to the population decline of the Ruaha buffaloes.

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