The Cape Leopard Trust recognises that farmer-predator conflict remains a highly emotive issue – both for those who lose livestock as well as for those of us who are wholly opposed to the destructive and indiscriminate methods of predator control.
In seeking solutions, The Cape Leopard Trust has always been committed to establishing sustainable long-term strategies to human-wildlife conflict, based on scientific fact rather than emotional conjecture. To achieve this, we employ two simple methodologies:
- We rely on rigorous scientific studies to back up our research findings.
- We employ constructive solution-seeking strategies that include farmers and other affected parties, as opposed to berating and alienating them.
We do not engage in attacks on those with a different viewpoint, as this compromises our integrity. Instead, we urge all stakeholders to redirect their efforts towards constructive collaboration with the Cape Leopard Trust, with farmers and with statutory organisations, based on tried and tested methods.
The Cape Leopard Trust is however sensitive to the reality of what is happening in certain farming areas in which we are working. On a regular basis we bear witness to the fact that farmers are often pushed to a point of absolute desperation due to pervasive livestock-predator conflict. We are also aware that there are many farmers who have tried various options and methods in an attempt to manage their predator problems in a more humane way, sometimes with mixed success. The fact remains though that there is a perception by the farming industry that over R1 billion per annum livestock losses are due to “problem” animals.
What is a problem animal?
This inappropriate title is applied to a damage-causing animal, especially in cases of livestock depredation. The culprit (very often misidentified on an individual or even species basis) is a wild animal doing what it is programmed to do – survive. In some cases leopards, caracals and jackals will prey on unattended and vulnerable livestock. It is expected of predators to kill – this is their very nature.
From the Cape Leopard Trust’s standpoint, we prefer to work with farmers to pre-empt these conflict situations by applying alternative livestock management practices. Given that different areas present different challenges, it does take time and a certain amount of experimentation to find sustainable working solutions. In many instances though, the simple solution from the farmer’s perspective is to eliminate the problem.
And herein lies a particular conundrum that livestock farmers often find difficult to understand. It is an established fact that in many cases the removal (killing or relocation) of an individual predator may in fact exacerbate the problem at hand. In fact, a farmer’s resident predators can be his best ally (provided he manages his stock properly), because dominant territorial predators actually prevent outsiders and (sometimes) other predators from entering and operating in their territories. Once again, our research shows that in areas where a dominant predator prevails, and where such an animal has not developed a stock habit, there is the lowest incidence of predation because other more opportune predators are limited territorially. Stable predator population densities should be lower and more manageable than ones where predators are persecuted.
Merely killing all the predators is not sustainable, it is a biological disaster, and to be quite blunt, it simply does not work in the long term. The Cape Leopard Trust fully endorses the concept of actively managing and protecting domestic livestock, rather than trying to manage and eradicate wild predators. Livestock need to be taken of the predators’ menu, so to speak – and herein lays the challenge. Very often, cases of livestock depredation by leopards are made possible by the fact that the stock – calves, lambs, etc, are left unattended and entirely unprotected in mountainous habitat where leopards and other predators roam freely. In such cases, simple solutions can often go a long way in mitigating the conflict.
Education and finding solutions
In addition to the "hard science" research component, the Cape Leopard Trust is also actively involved in the training and empowering of local community residents as well as working with farming communities to find ways to minimize depredation of livestock by the Cape's threatened and persecuted predator population. The objective of finding solutions for farmers who encounter problems with wildlife in their area includes encouraging the view that the tourism and conservation value of wildlife may in certain circumstances exceed the perceived threat to livestock.
With possibly 80% of South Africa's most threatened biodiversity occurring on private or community land, we recognise the fact that farmers and rural communities are integral to the protection of our natural heritage. It is therefore imperative that we are able to work on their land, so as to find solutions to the ongoing problems. Our experience in working proactively with rural communities and with farmers in many parts of the Western and Northern Cape proves that viable solutions can be implemented.
There are a number of effective and acceptable strategies that farmers can deploy to safeguard their stock and reduce losses. However, it takes time and considerable patience to change mindsets and convention – a process that is only achieved via incremental steps and lots of positive reinforcement. Our experience shows that solutions to farmer-predator conflict lie first and foremost in establishing successful partnerships with all stakeholders including farmers, statutory agencies (e.g. Cape Nature) and NGO's such as the Cape Leopard Trust – and that positive results are directly proportional to the levels of co-operation, patience, trust and mutual respect among all parties.
Human-wildlife problems will not be solved overnight, but we can attempt to reduce the number of animals being injured or killed injudiciously by having farmers use more humane methods of control, rather than poisons, snares and gin traps.
Success in the Cederberg
In the Cederberg, the CLT was instrumental in the voluntary ban of gin traps as well as hunting or trapping of leopards thought to be “problem animals”. This was achieved in 2007 in the Cederberg Conservancy, a 1700 km2 area of pristine wilderness interspersed with farmland. This area was regarded as having some of the highest levels of leopard-farmer conflict in the Western Cape, with resulting leopard deaths to match.
Up to 17 leopards in one year, and an average of 7 per annum, were killed in this area before the CLT began its work here in 2003. Since then, this number has dropped significantly to fewer than 5 reported cases in the Greater Cederberg area. This was accomplished through the support from farmers as well as CapeNature, where research has contributed to better management of the species.