The potential for large carnivores to act as biodiversity surrogates in southern Africa

10 November 2008

Biodiversity in southern Africa is globally extraordinary but threatened by human activities. Although there are considerable biodiversity conservation initiatives within the region, no one has yet assessed the potential use of large carnivores in such actions. Surrogate approaches have often been suggested as one such way of capitalizing on large carnivores. Here we review the suitability of the large carnivore guild (i.e., brown hyaena Hyaena hyaena, spotted hyaena Crocuta crocutta, cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, leopard Panthera pardus, lion Panthea leo and African wild dog Lycaon pictus) to act as surrogate species for biodiversity conservation in southern Africa. We suggest that the guild must be complete for the large carnivores to fully provide their role as ecological keystones. The potential for large carnivores to act as umbrella and indicator species seems limited. However, self-sustaining populations of large carnivores may be useful indicators of unfragmented landscapes. Moreover, diversity within the large carnivore guild may reXect overall biodiversity. Although the global appeal of the large African carnivores makes them important international Xagships, we stress that international conservation funding must be linked to local communities for them to be important also locally. In summary, we suggest that the Xagship value of these large carnivores should be used to promote biodiversity conservation in the region, and that the suggested relationship between large carnivore diversity and overall biodiversity is empirically tested. Finally we suggest that direct conservation activities should focus on enhancing the keystone values of large carnivores through complete guild conservation and restoration.