Vegetation could be key to predator control

In the Karoo, jackal and caracal favour micromammals such as Karoo bush rats and the four-striped field mouse, and will target these as a key part of their diet, even when there are sheep and goats available.

Many livestock farmers in the Karoo who have been losing sheep and goats to jackal and caracal have realised that night hunting, poisoning and trapping is not working. They have been waiting for other solutions.

Research conducted over three years in the Laingsburg district of the Karoo by the University of Cape Town’s Department of Biological Sciences, could offer an important key in the livestock predation battle.

The research area included 22 neighbouring sheep farms in the Laingsburg district of the Karoo and the Anysberg Nature Reserve, one of CapeNature’s reserves, situated southwest of the project farms.

Income similar to schoolteachers

Laingsburg is a marginal farming area. Rainfall is in the order of 120 to 130 mm per year. The average flock size is 642 ewes, but a quarter of the flocks consist of fewer than 300 ewes each and half the farmers have an income similar to that of schoolteachers. Farmers cannot afford to lose more animals – it is putting the local agricultural economy at risk.

‘They are trying to produce food and at the same time they are told to stop persecuting predators. We worked with farmers to understand exactly what is happening on these farms from an holistic perspective, including an assessment of predators, farm management and the general biodiversity status of the area,’ says behavioural ecologist Professor Justin O’Riain of the University of Cape Town’s Department of Biological Sciences.

One of the largest camera trap surveys

To gain a better understanding of how mesopredators like jackal and caracal behave, PhD student, Marine Drouilly, supervised by O’Riain, compared on-farm research data with research data from the Anysberg Nature Reserve, based on the largest camera trap surveys ever undertaken in the Karoo. Between October 2012 and June 2015, 332 camera traps were set up over the survey area of approximately 160 000 hectares.

Half of the camera traps were set up on the 22 sheep farms and the other half in the reserve. The camera trap findings were combined to produce a biodiversity assessment of the area. Smaller assessments have been done on individual farms but never on this scale.

80 farmers participated in the research

In addition, 80 farmers participated in the research and provided key information in questionnaires regarding their tolerance to wildlife and predators.

The WWF Nedbank Green Trust co-funded this project, which was managed by the University of Cape Town’s Sustainable Societies Unit in the Centre for Social Science Research (CSSR).

Several of the farmers claimed losses of up to 70% but it was not possible to confirm this as many of the farmers in the project research did not know exactly how many lambs they were supposed to have in a season. ‘Mainly for cost reasons, many of the farmers don’t scan their ewes so they do not know if they are pregnant or whether the ewe is carrying a single lamb or twins,’ Drouilly explains.

‘The four farmers who use electric fencing showed far lower sheep losses but many of the famers said all kinds of fencing was too expensive for them and that they did not have sufficient labour to regularly patrol their fences.’

Vegetation rehabilitation could be key

In this very arid environment, the grazing by sheep and goats limited and reduced the vegetation cover. The sparser the vegetation the lower the rodent population, with an accompanying increase in the predation of sheep by caracal and jackal. “What we found in this study is that predators prefer micromammals to domestic livestock, but domestic livestock are so much more abundant on farmlands and so they ended up as major prey for the mesopredators”, says Drouilly who used her camera trapping data as a measure of prey availability and an electivity index to determine which source of prey the predators were showing a preference for.

‘The data indicates that vegetation rehabilitation could be one of the keys to predator control, along with better protection of livestock,’ she adds.

Drouilly’s research also calls into question the adverse outcome of farmers’ longstanding approaches to controlling the predators, including poisoning. This is not only illegal it is completely counterproductive as it simultaneously kills the rodents that are an important part of the predators’ diet.

Comprehensive recent research by zoologist and conservation ecologist, Professor Graham Kerley, from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) in the Eastern Cape, further revealed that farmers’ targeting of predators can lead to an increase in their numbers, as he explained: ‘The jackal females on farms breed younger and have more offspring at a younger age as a compensatory response to lethal management. The same response is not happening on nature reserves.’

Incorrect perception about weekend farms and nature reserves

There is also a strong perception amongst sheep and goat farmers that nature reserves and game farms provide refuges for jackals. Another important part of the project was to compare the diet of jackal and caracal using GPS clusters and scat to determine what they eat and where.

‘The analysis of scats showed the jackals in my study that moved between ‘weekend farms’ where there was no livestock and farms with livestock where they tended to prey mostly on sheep and also goats, as well as wild animals such rodents. The jackals in the Anysberg, by comparison, preyed predominantly on wild animals, mostly rodents, berries and insects, even when they roamed outside of the reserve.’

On-farm jackal diet

Drouilly explains that on the farms, the research showed that sheep and to a lesser extent goats comprised 42% of the diet of jackals living on sheep farms, compared to the existing literature, which averages at 20%. She also found that 10% of the diet of on-farm jackal comprised small rodents and 11% invertebrates, insects like crickets, grasshoppers and snakes. The remainder of the diet mainly comprised wild ungulates, birds and fruits.

On-farm caracal diet: 14% rodents

The diet of the caracal living on livestock farms comprised 25% livestock, 14% rodents, 12% insects and 12% small ungulates like duikers and springbuck. The rest of the diet comprised birds and other mammals such as hares and hyraxes.

Nature reserve diets of jackal and caracal

In the Anysberg reserve the diet for the jackal was completely different: 41% of their diet comprised of fruit, notably from the gwarrie tree, 36% from different types of micromammals and 8% insects.

The diet of the caracal in reserve comprised 58% micromammals, almost 13% insects and 5% small ungulates.

GPS collars

‘We GPS-collared 4 jackal on the farms and 4 in the Anysberg and even though they roamed onto farms for short periods we never found any signs of sheep or goat in either their kill sites or their scats,’ she says.

‘We were unable to GPS-collar any caracal in the Anysberg but on the farms we collared 12 – from sub-adult (2 years) to old ones (7 years).

‘What is interesting is that my preliminary on-farm analysis of GPS-collared caracals indicates that some of them never ate any sheep while others were eating almost one a week. Those that did not eat sheep preyed on a range of wild animals, including dassies, rabbits, hares, rock monitor lizards, aardwolf, steenbok, duiker and birds.’

Predator movement related to permanent water

‘We will also use the GPS collar data to establish where and when the jackal and caracal drink,’ continues Drouilly. ‘There is a strong sense that the movement of these predators into the Karoo over the past couple of decades could have a lot to do with the establishment of permanent water in the form of dams, boreholes and water troughs.’

Historically, many species including jackals would have moved in and out of these areas in accordance with the Karoo’s unpredictable rainfall. The provision of permanent water may thus have changed the ranging patterns of many species.

The fascinating case of Leroy

A fascinating case study in the project was a young male jackal they named Leroy. ‘He was captured and collared on a sheep farm 30 km from Beaufort West in May 2014. He was just two years at the time. He dispersed over 200 km to Laingsburg and the Floriskraal Dam area to establish his own territory. In total, he moved for 2000 km over 5 months through numerous farms and survived.’

What is special about this project is that academics and farmers are coming together over key livelihood and biodiversity issues.

Source: karoopredatorproject


SA’s Grootbos named NatGeo finalist in World Legacy Awards

Cape Town – South Africa’s highly-acclaimed Grootbos Private Nature Reserve has been honoured by National Geographic as one of 15 finalists in the esteemed World Legacy Awards. The recognition is for Grootbos’ work in its Grootbos Green Futures Foundation, and list Grootbos as a finalist in the ‘Engaging Communities’ World Legacy Award.

This award recognises direct and tangible economic and social benefits that improve local livelihoods, including training and capacity building, fair wages and benefits, community development, health care and education.

Lean Terblanche, director of the Grootbos Green Futures Foundation told Traveller24, “the award shines a much-needed light on the importance of conservation and sustainability initiatives in tourism around the world. Our actions today affect the world for centuries to come; no one will benefit from tourism [in the future] if we do not protect our people and our planet.”

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The Grootbos Green Futures Foundation, started in 2003, is non-profit arm of the Grootbos Private Nature Reserve which focuses on community based training and capacity building to support poverty alleviation, provide upward job mobility and advance nature conservation in the high biodiversity region known as the Cape Floral Kingdom where Grootbos is located.

To date, 143 local residents graduated from the Green Futures Horticulture and Life Skills College founded by Grootbos and all were successfully placed into jobs.

Other community benefit initiatives include the Football Foundation which provides HIV/AIDS Awareness training in local schools to educate children about reducing transmission risk and the Siyakhula Growing the Future Organic Farm project providing valuable training in sustainable farming knowledge.

The Grootbos Green Futures Foundation is honoured alongside other internationally acclaimed institutions and organisations, but is the only South African organization to be awarded.

Sharing the nomination with Grootbos is the Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy in the United States as well as the category winner, The Bushcamp Company in Zambia.

The Bushcamp Company, says NatGeo, has worked hard to bring the benefits of sustainable tourism to the local population of the Luangwa Valley, recognizing that protecting the natural environment means fully involving the local community in management and decision making.

In 2015, Grootbos also became a founding member of National Geographic Society’s National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World, which acknowledges exceptional boutique hotels in extraordinary places around the world with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, authenticity and excellence.

The Bushcamp Company was also featured in this awards. In SA, Grootbos was named alongside two other proudly South African lodges.

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Source: traveller24

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Grootbos Champions South Africa’s Biodiversity

Grootbos Nature Reserve, near the Garden Route has earned international recognition for championing sustainable tourism efforts.

The Western Cape reserve has been nominated for the 2015 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards, handed out by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), for its acclaimed conservation programmes. It is a finalist in the Community Award category.

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in Madrid, Spain on 15 April during the 15th WTTC Global Summit.

In addition to the nomination, the lodge earned a spot on National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World list. The list, which was published on 6 January, features 24 properties.

“National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World is a network of world-class accommodations where sustainability is the touchstone and the guest experience is exceptionally rich and meaningful,” the company wrote. “We invite you to discover how ‘staying’ can be truly extraordinary.”

“The tourism sector is a R18-billion industry that employs over 150 000 people,” said Alan Winde, the provincial MEC of economic opportunities, in congratulating Grootbos. “It’s important that we embrace practices to protect the environment so we can safeguard these resources. With such a rich cultural and natural heritage to preserve, sustainability is particularly important in this region. Their achievements are garnering attention for their own establishments as well as for the Western Cape.”

The WTTC Tourism for Tomorrow Awards are aimed at recognising best practice in sustainable tourism within the industry globally, based upon the principles of environmentally friendly operations; support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage; and direct benefits to the social and economic well-being of local people in travel destinations around the world, the council explains.

These annual awards are among the highest accolades in the industry and represent the gold standard in sustainable tourism.

In voting for Grootbos as a finalist, the council notes that of the six floral kingdoms on Earth, South Africa’s Cape Floristic Region is perhaps the least well known. Covering just 553 000 hectares, it is also the smallest.

“Small, however, does not mean insignificant. Despite accounting for just 0.5% of Africa, the region is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.”

The hotel and reserve overlooks Walker Bay and comprises 2 500 hectares of very high conservation value land, with 785 indigenous plant species recorded on the reserve, of which 117 are species of conservation concern and seven are endemic to Grootbos.

“It’s one thing to use the money raised from its 6 000 visitors each year to protect and restore such a fragile and unique ecosystem. What sets Grootbos apart is that it goes a lot further, designing its stewardship of the land to also bring uplift to the many impoverished communities that live nearby,” says the WTTC.

“Of the 180 people employed at Grootbos, 95% is from the local communities. Its Growing the Future project provides skills development in organic agriculture, sustainable animal husbandry and beekeeping. In the last year it produced three tonnes of organic fruit and vegetables, 980kg of organic honey, 26 000 free range eggs, and generated more than R500 000 from plant sales and landscaping. And following a needs analysis of 700 of the poorest households, the lodge launched a GreenBox planting system, which is now being rolled out to enable 200 households to produce their own food.”

Similarly, the National Geographic Society’s National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World is a collection of boutique hotels in extraordinary places around the world with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, authenticity and excellence. They “offer an outstanding guest experience while supporting the protection of cultural and natural heritage and embracing sustainable tourism practices”, says the society.

Other African lodges on the list are Sabi Sabi Earth Lodge and Tswalu Kalahari in South Africa, and Rubondo Island Camp and Sayari Camp in Tanzania.

Source: All Africa

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