Dr Nic Elliot

Research Interests

In 2007 I conducted an MSc in Wildlife Management at the University of Reading. My thesis focused on differing survey methods for large carnivores and was carried out under Hwange Lion Research in Zimbabwe. Upon completion of the MSc I returned to Hwange as a volunteer field assistant on the same project and developed ideas for a DPhil which I started in 2009 and completed in 2013.

The focus of my doctoral thesis was on the ecology of dispersal in lions. Lion dispersal is defined as a permanent movement away from a natal pride in search of territory in which to settle and reproduce. As ecosystems become more fragmented the importance of dispersal is increasingly apparent as it is often the only mechanism by which organisms move between populations, thus maintaining population viability and genetic diversity. Furthermore in order to implement successful conservation policies it is important to understand how lions disperse from protected areas into the surrounding landscape. During the dispersal phase, a lion can range over vast areas, often coming into contact with territorial adults, and also with people as they frequently leave protected areas.

I therefore investigated the survival, resource use, movement ecology and connectivity of African lions in all three dispersal phases in addition to adulthood. I made use of a long-term
dataset incorporating radio-telemetry and observational data from lions in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Although the thesis is finished, I am continuing to work on various publications with the Hwange team relating to connectivity in the Southern African region.

In October 2013 I moved to Kenya and am currently Project Director of the Mara Lion Project. Despite being one of the most iconic ecosystems on earth, little research has been carried out on lions in the Mara. The Mara is an ecosystem of extremes as high densities of herbivores, predators, livestock, people and tourists make this a fascinating study and potentially a glimpse of the future for many of Africa’s wild places. Together with our small team, we are establishing population demographics, assessing disease prevalence, genetic diversity, stress hormones and dispersal across the greater Mara ecosystem. We aim to use the results of our applied research to guide conservation efforts and develop best practices.

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