Habitat differences do not explain population declines of sable antelope in an African savanna

G. P. Asner, N. Owen-Smith, S. R. Loarie, A. B. Davies, E. Le Roux, S. R. Levick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Sable antelope, Hippotragus niger, populations have declined substantially in Kruger National Park, South Africa despite large-area protection from land use and poaching. Since Africa's large mammal populations are restricted to protected areas, understanding how to manage parks for biological diversity is critically important to the sustainability of faunal populations into the future. To better understand the drivers of sable decline, we analyzed landscapes where herds persist in the Pretoriuskop region of Kruger - identified by GPS collar telemetry data from eight individuals in five herds remaining in this area, and compared them to landscapes where sable herds have recently disappeared. We mapped these landscapes with satellite-based spectral data on vegetation greenness and fire frequency and Carnegie Airborne Observatory LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data on 3-D vegetation structure. Within their home ranges, sable herds consistently selected areas with high fire frequency, high tree cover and low shrub cover. However, there were no consistent differences in habitat features between the home ranges of current sable herds and areas formerly supporting herds. Locally deteriorating habitat conditions were therefore not responsible for the decline in sables in this region of the park. Our study also illustrates how multi-sensor, 3-D mapping of ecosystems provides a means to assess causes and consequences of changing animal habitats over time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)225-234
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Animal movement
  • Carnegie Airborne Observatory
  • Habitat use
  • Kruger National Park
  • LiDAR
  • Savanna ecology
  • Vegetation structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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