Environmentalist, Laura Law, wrote on Feike's Facebook page that she opposed the Western Cape government's decision to permit farmers to kill certain predatory animals (caracals and jackals) in a bid to protect agricultural livestock. Laura holds the view that there are alternatives to the present scheme of permits that authorise farmers to kill a specified number of these predatory animals.
Feike offered Laura our BLOG platform to publish her views on the possible alternative methods to the current predator management scheme implemented by the Western Cape government. Here are her views on the subject. We note that these views and opinions do not reflect the views or opinions of Feike.
The "Bredell Cull" commenced in July 2011 and came about after DA Minister of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, allegedly pressured CapeNature into issuing 480 farmers with blanket permits to kill up to ten predators per day over a six month period. This was described by Dr. Bool Smuts of the Landmark Foundation as "the largest cull of bio-diversity ever sanctioned by a government entity in the history of the African continent". The permits collectively total close to 900 000 animals, consisting mostly of jackal and caracal. As justification, Mr. Bredell has asserted that estimated stock losses amount to R1.7 million per annum, and farmers have to carry these losses themselves as they are not compensated by the government for stock predation.
"Call and shoot" hunting (which has been prohibited in the past), as well as night hunts with the use of artificial lights, gin traps (which kill 20 non-target species for every target predator killed, and are banned in over 90 countries), trap cages, trained hound packs, and helicopters are now sanctioned methods of killing. Thankfully, farmers have recently agreed to cease using poison. According to research by the Landmark Foundation, alternative methods of predator management have proven to be more effective and significantly less expensive.
ANATOLIAN SHEPHERD DOGS
The most well known of these non-lethal methods is the use of Anatolian Shepherd dogs as livestock guardians. The Landmark Foundation, Cheetah Outreach and the De Wildt Cheetah And Wildlife Trust all run extensive programs in South Africa whereby these dogs are being introduced to farming areas experiencing losses due to predation. The effective use of these dogs is a result of an intensive and very specific training and socialisation process,centered around the dogs bonding with the flock, and starting before the dogs reach their third week of life. This is when the olfactory (smell) bonding and socialisation development period begins, and is the most important developmental stage in the sensory bonding process.
If applied correctly and with the necessary dedication of the farmer, an improvement of up to 90% in the control of predation can be achieved. Reported problems by farmers include the dogs chasing or killing lambs and other wildlife, and the dogs wandering away from the flock in search of the company of other dogs. Both of these elements are dealt with in the rigorous training and socialisation program and can be considered as a failure of the farmer rather than the dog.
A lesser known alternative involves the use of Alpacas, which belong to the Camelid family and are primarily fleece-producing animals. They originate from South America and are closely related to the Llama.
As with all Camelids, they are gregarious (social animals who live in groups), intelligent, hardy and possess a very strong herding instinct. They will instinctively run down an intruder and can use their front legs to stomp on it or their hind legs to kick. Males develop sharp fighting canines and both sexes will spit as a form of intimidation. They also sound an alarm in the form of a high-pitched sound which could alert the farmer to the presence of the predator.
These animals can reside with the herd permanently or be used intermittently and are particularly valuable during lambing season. It is essential that they are introduced to the flock at least 6-8 weeks prior to lambing.
Being ruminants and browsers, they do not require any additional feeds and will live off the veld with the sheep or goats. With a lifespan of 20-25 years and able to withstand harsh conditions and extreme temperatures, they are a good investment to any farmer.
In addition to their value as guarding animals they also offer an extra source of income to the farmer, yielding a high quality fibre with excellent thermal qualities and devoid of lanolin.Having a dry fleece means that maggots are not a problem and treatment in that regard is not necessary. Fleece quality is reported to be equivalent to cashmere, fetching prices of up to R300/KG.
They are a convenient guarding option to farmers, as no extra facilities are needed for their introduction and existing operations can continue as before. Australia has been utilising Alpacas for over 10 years and results show an increase in lambing percentage of 10-20%, and an improvement of 80-90% in stock losses. Alpacas are effective against caracal and jackal specifically, but their effectiveness with larger predators (such as leopard and cheetah) is unproven. The recommended ratio is 2 Alpacas to every 250 ewes on 250 hectares and that they run in pairs.
As flocks are still being bred-up in South Africa after their introduction 5 years ago, their availability is currently limited.
Donkeys can similarly be used to guard livestock and have even been used in parts of Kenya to guard cattle against lions, proving themselves very effective in chasing predators and other intruders from their territories. They are naturally more alert and aware of predators than cattle and will instinctively gravitate towards- and remain with- the herd. Donkeys are hardy animals, requiring no additional feeds or expense.
Mares are preferred to stallions, who may become aggressive during breeding. Mares are also extremely protective of their foals, so a mare with a foal would be an added advantage. Foals should be raised with the livestock they are to protect and kraaled with the livestock at night, where possible.
Switzerland has successfully used donkeys to protect livestock from the European wolf and lynx.
Once commonly used by farmers to protect livestock in the field, herdsmen have all but disappeared since farms became more extensive and labour cost and practices changed. Reverting back to the use of herdsmen would also be a great tool in the creation of jobs, and added incentives -such as profit sharing and partnerships- would mean a greater dedication and enthusiasm towards the safeguarding of the flock.
There are various collars available, either providing an alarm system, a physical barrier or a deterrent to predators.
The "Veldwagter" collar works with a motion-sensing device, which sends an alert to the farmer when there is excessive movement (fleeing from a predator) or after a prolonged period of inaction (if the animal dies). These need only be fitted to a few members of the flock. This system has been utilised by over 500 farmers, who reported reductions in stock losses of more than 90% on average.
Collars providing a physical barrier to the predator's bite operate on the premise that the predator will learn that collared animals are not easy prey. Predators such as jackal, may adapt their attack techniques to bite and kill livestock other than by asphyxiation, but reported losses have shown an 80-100% decrease with their use.
Bell collars have shown a mixed success rate. They are fitted to every member of the flock and make a noise if the flock start to flee. This startles the predator, who abandons the attack. These collars can also be useful in identifying individual problem predators. The collars can also be fitted with scent devices which also serve to deter predators. In addition to this, poison collars have also been developed to remove habitual livestock predators.
Predator-proof fencing can also be used to safeguard livestock, and agricultural fencing subsidies are available to farmers to offset the massive expense involved (around R15 000 per Km). Cats can easily clear these fences and it is imperative that regular patrols are undertaken to secure any breaches.
LIVE TRAP CAGES
Live traps are devices which contain the animal without causing any significant injuries, allowing for the relocation of an offending predator or the release of a non-target animal. Over a period of 4 years, 17 leopards have been rescued in the Baviaanskloof area using this method. Captured leopards have been fitted with GPS collars in order to monitor their movements. In cases where the GPS information has proven that a specific leopard was indeed to blame for a loss, the farmers are directly compensated for that loss by the Landmark Foundation.
These traps have not proven to be successful with jackals,however. With almost every other species of problem predator, they have been highly effective and are strongly recommended by many organisations.
As all wild predators show preference to naturally occurring prey, rather than livestock, the stocking of a herd of indigenous prey (such as springbok) as a "buffer" species for predators to prey on has also be found to be effective. This could also provide an added income to farmers in the form of a tourist attraction.
Many other herding techniques, such as kraaling, are also effective in combating predation and are too numerous to detail in this article. A multi-pronged approach, using more than one of the methods listed, proves to be the most successful approach. A study by the Landmark Foundation showed a saving of R97 500 by a farmer after switching to non-lethal controls (in terms of lethal control costs and loss to predation).
The removal of apex predators, such as leopards, has created an imbalance in predator relations. This has led to the proliferation of secondary predators, such as jackal. Hunting certain species -the jackal in particular- has actually directly increased the population of these predators. When a dominant female jackal is killed, the remaining lower-ranking females all come into oestrus. This results in a dramatic spike in numbers. With continued persecution, the females are maturing at a younger age and litter sizes are increasing. In the 1980's, black backed jackal were reaching sexual maturity at 14 months and would have 3 pups per litter. At present, they are sexually mature at 7 months and are giving birth to 5 pups per litter. Kas Hammen, Executive Director of CapeNature, has admitted that hunting these animals is worsening the situation.
After 200 years of indiscriminate hunting by farmers, the fact that the problem not only persists but is growing exceedingly worse, should in itself be telling the farmers and government alike that this is not a viable solution. The government should instead be concentrating on developing and training farmers in existing non-lethal control methods as the alternative to a practice which is not only ineffective, but devastating to bio-diversity and the balance of our ecosystem. Dr. Quinton Martins of The Cape Leopard Trust has stated that 85% of our bio-diversity lies in the hands of farmers, meaning that responsible management on these privately owned lands is absolutely imperative if we wish to maintain any kind of ecological integrity in this country.