Context. Rangelands can play an important role in conservation by providing additional habitat for many threatened species and maintaining global biodiversity. Identifying areas that can integrate both pastoral and conservation activities is important for capturing benefits from wildlife in non-protected areas.
Aims. To investigate wildlife distribution in a contiguous landscape comprising both pastoral ranches and wildlife-based areas in western Botswana.
Methods. We deployed motion-activated camera traps to assess mammal richness and occupancy using a multi-species occupancy model. We tested whether environmental factors influenced these parameters in a commercial ranching block in the western Kalahari region of Botswana, and whether species-specific occupancy varied between ranches and neighbouring wildlife management areas.
Key results. In the ranching block, vegetation, season and distance to wildlife areas influenced species-specific occupancy and species richness, whereas farm type and water availability affected only a few carnivore species. Commercial ranches supported several threatened species such as African wild dog, cheetah and pangolin, and we detected two species, African civet and serval, not previously considered being present in this region. Mammal diversity was similar between ranches and wildlife areas, but species composition varied. Land use affected species-specific occupancy, with many carnivore species occurring close to or in wildlife areas.
Conclusions. We showed that commercial ranches in the Kalahari are utilised by many mammal species, and these areas may play an important role in the conservation of threatened species. Understanding species-, group- and community-level responses to the impacts of human activities in rangelands is vital as the need for pastoral land increases.
Implications. We predicted regions of high occurrence of carnivores that can be important for tackling human–wildlife conflict as well as regions with high species diversity that may be useful for increasing integration of conservation endeavours (e.g. eco-tourism) that promote the benefits of wildlife in predominantly livestock regions.