1. Conflict between people and large carnivores is an urgent conservation issue world-wide. Understanding
the underlying ecological drivers of livestock depredation by large carnivores is greatly
2. We studied the spatial, foraging and behavioural ecology of African lions Panthera leo in the
Botswana Makgadikgadi ecosystem. This ecosystem comprises a protected area, characterized by
high seasonal fluctuation in wild prey abundance, and adjacent lands, which are used for livestock
grazing and characterized by stable livestock abundance, but also a risk of anthropogenic mortality.
3. Makgadikgadi lions preferentially preyed upon migratory wild herbivores when they were present;
however, data from GPS (Global Positioning System) radiocollared lions revealed that the
majority of the study lions did not follow the migratory herds but remained resident at one or other
border of the park and switched to livestock (abundant and readily available), and to a lesser extent
resident wild herbivores (relatively scarce), in periods of migratory wild herbivore scarcity.
4. Resident lions’ use of space differed between periods of wild prey abundance and scarcity. These
changes were likely to increase the frequency of encounter with their primary prey in periods of primary
prey abundance and with livestock in periods of primary prey scarcity.
5. The risk of conflict with humans was a major driver of lion ecology in the human-dominated
landscape surrounding the protected area. Resident lions generally avoided the close vicinity of cattle-
posts.When they used such areas, they avoided temporal overlap with periods that humans were
most active and travelled at high speed reducing the time spent in these areas.
6. Synthesis and applications. This study suggests that lions balance the benefits of accessing livestock
with the costs associated with livestock raiding. Hence, reduction in livestock availability
through effective livestock husbandry in periods of wild prey scarcity should lead to reduced