Culling caracals does not help farmers.

I had an enlightening experience at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness and Rehabilitation Centre located outside Plettenberg Bay, where we witnessed various indigenous wild cats of South Africa in close proximity. Tenikwa aims to educate its visitors on the challenges and threats faced by the indigenous wild cats of South Africa, and to rehabilitate rescued animals so that they are ready to be released back to their homes.

We had the pleasure of being received by Tenikwa’s Marketing Manager, Steven. He shared with us that Tenikwa started off as a rehabilitation centre for birds in 2002. Over the years, there has been a surge in demand for wildlife rehabilitation in the area because people increasingly moved from the inland cities to the coatal towns, thus leading to human and animal conflict.

In order to accommodate the burgeoning human population, deforestation and bushmeat hunting have become prevalent in formerly remote areas. Forests are cleared for agricultural use and commercial resource extraction is intensified to fuel human activity. As such, humans are encroaching on the natural habitats of wild cats such as caracals, leopards, and cheetahs.

Questioning culling’s effectiveness in protecting livestock

Unfortunately, there is a serious lack of understanding that wildlife has been severely affected by human settlement and activity. People mainly believe in the converse, complaining that their safety and activity are compromised by wildlife coming into human spaces. Stephen shared with me the disturbing threats that the beautiful caracals (Caracal caracal) face. Farmers have reported that caracals have been attacking their livestocks. In response, these farmers set traps to catch the caracals, either to kill them or sell them off as exotic pets. The logic that eliminating livestock-killing animals prevents livestock loss makes intuitive sense.

However, such logic is not supported with scientific evidence. In fact, numerous studies have shown that culling caracals has the contrary effect. One study by Alex Bailey and Beatrice Conradie (2013) reported that caracal culling “increase[s] the next year’s livestock losses at the farm level” (p. 13), making culling programmes ineffective in resolving predator problems. A plausible ecological explanation is predator populations have a compensatory mechanism, in which “vacant territories are repopulated by dispersing juveniles, who fight fiercely and breed rapidly in an attempt to gain a territorial foothold” (p. 14). As such, predators like caracals end up repopulating to their original numbers or even more. Another study by Conradie and Jenifer Piesse (2013) similarly reports that blanket culling has a negative impact on farmers’ interests. It is thus important that farmers recognize the ineffectiveness of blanket culling when it comes to protecting their livestock.

Offering alternative strategies

It is not enough to raise awareness of culling’s ineffectiveness in terms of managing livestock loss. Farmers will continue to face the problem and insist on culling if nothing else proves helpful. Thus, they need to be trained and educated about alternative methods that have proven to resolve such human-animal conflict more effectively. Livestock guard dogs are one such alternative. Findings from an experiment done between 1994 and 2002 showed the use of livestock guard dogs on Namibian farms led to a decrease in stock loss (Marker, Dickman & Schumann, 2005, p. 30).

Steven also shared that Tenikwa has been strongly advocating alternative conflict resolution strategies. Tenikwa assists nature authorities such as Cape Nature and South Africa National Park in the conducting of workshops for farmers, where they promote alternative methods like electronic collars. “The collars will give out a high frequency noise that deters the predators and also have LED lights on them,” Steven explained. Moreover, Tenikwa assists the nature authorities in the relocation of “problem animals”. “When farmers report about ‘problem animals’ disturbing their farms and livestocks, we assist Cape Nature and other nature authorities in setting up traps and night cameras so as to catch the ‘problem animals’ and relocate them. This is to prevent any [unprofessional] human arbitration that could [potentially] hurt them,” Steven added.

Working towards co-existence of humans and wildlife

Be it spiritual or moral, we as humans have the responsibility of ensuring the peaceful co-existence of humans and wildlife. Biologically, our species is the most superior in the whole animal kingdom. But such power should not be abused. After all, with great power comes great responsibility. Some may argue that this is a matter of “survival of the fittest” thus, we should let nature take its course. However, that should mean allowing nature to balance the ecosystem. I believe we have the wisdom not to tip the scales.

References:

Bailey, A., & Conradie, B. (2013). The effect of predator culling on livestock losses: caracal control in Cooper Hunting Club, 1976-1981.

Conradie, B., & Piesse, J. (2013). The effect of predator culling on livestock losses: Ceres, South Africa, 1979-1987.

Marker, L., Dickman, A., & Schumann, M. (2005). Using livestock guarding dogs as a conflict resolution strategy on Namibian farms. Carnivore Damage Prevention News8, 28-32.

 

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