Ecological monitoring and health research in Luambe National Park, Zambia: Generation of baseline data layers

Classifying, describing and understanding the natural environment is an important element of studies of human, animal and ecosystem health, and baseline ecological data are commonly lacking in remote environments of the world. Human African trypanosomiasis is an important constraint on human well-being in sub-Saharan Africa, and spillover transmission occurs from the reservoir community of wild mammals. Here we use robust and repeatable methodology to generate baseline datasets on vegetation and mammal density to investigate the ecology of warthogs (Phacochoerus africanus) in the remote Luambe National Park in Zambia, in order to further our understanding of their interactions with tsetse (Glossina spp.) vectors of trypanosomiasis. Fuzzy set theory is used to produce an accurate landcover classification, and distance sampling techniques are applied to obtain species and habitat level density estimates for the most abundant wild mammals. The density of warthog burrows is also estimated and their spatial distribution mapped. The datasets generated provide an accurate baseline to further ecological and epidemiological understanding of disease systems such as trypanosomiasis. This study provides a reliable framework for ecological monitoring of wild mammal densities and vegetation composition in remote, relatively inaccessible environments.