Predator Day – Ons praat ‘n jakkals uit ‘n bos

Mandy Schumann, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Land Reform, and Bonnie Schumann, the EWT’s Drylands Conservation Programme

Farmers and conservationists recently got together in Prince Albert to discuss the issues around livestock predation in the Karoo. This event was organised after the Western Cape Department of Agriculture’s stakeholder meeting in May 2022, at which farmers indicated this challenge as one of the most important in the Karoo. In response to this, the Department partnered with the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) to present a one-day workshop to unravel the challenge.

Predators and the problems caused by livestock predation typically produce a witches’ cauldron of emotions, and tensions invariably run high. To survive out there, farmers need to be tough and, as a result, have strong personalities and strong opinions. Conservationists are engaged in an almost impossible struggle to save what is left of our critical biodiversity in the face of an ever-increasing avalanche of threats. As such, conservationists also tend to have strong personalities and no-nonsense attitudes, which can be a recipe for potential conflict between the “greenies” and farmers.

This day, however, proved to be different. The event set the benchmark for addressing a hot topic without needing on-site referees or first aiders. It also highlighted the need for more opportunities to share lessons and to encourage interaction and discussion between conservation bodies, agricultural organisations, and farmers. Farmers are, after all, at the forefront of the efforts to provide food for the nation under ever-increasing challenging climatic and economic conditions. Farmers are out there to make a living from farming. They embrace the solitude and have a deeply ingrained love of the land, the job, and all it encompasses. Farming alongside nature, whether with crops or livestock, brings a host of challenges and almost insurmountable risks. Enter wildlife and predator conflict, the focus of the gathering in Prince Albert.

The EWT’s Bonnie Schumann presenting at Predator Day 2022 in Prince Albert

The presenters, a team from the Endangered Wildlife Trust, CapeNature, the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, The Predation Management Forum, the Cape Leopard Trust, and an agent from Virbac, were all exceptionally professional. The attitude from the outset was about sharing information and learning from one another. The farmers attending were engaging while the speakers shared their experiences, and it was a valuable learning exchange with the farmers communicating their valuable insights and opinions. Undoubtedly, participants departed with much food for thought on what could or could not be applied back home on the farm. Contact information was shared so discussions and support could continue following the event. This open approach made it a useful and positive networking experience for all involved. And as always, most people experienced that moment of “why don’t we get together and discuss this more often?”

No farmer wants to arrive at his livestock in the morning and find chaos and destruction, nor spend half of his time playing cat and mouse trying to chase down predators on his farm. The great thing is that the attitude towards wildlife on farms is slowly shifting in a positive direction. The discussions included approaches to sustainable land management and strengthening collaboration between stakeholders to find solutions. Small stock is most vulnerable during lambing season, but even healthy adult sheep can be preyed on by jackal and caracal. Over the years, a diverse toolbox of mitigation measures has been developed, ranging from using livestock guardian animals, including dogs and alpacas (yes, they guard as well as spit), to bells and whistles to protect livestock from predation. Besides protecting livestock, improving management focusing on superior genetic selection, such as selecting for strong maternal instincts and animals adapted to the environment, all of which help to reduce unnecessary losses. In addition, these measures help to make the production system much more resilient to predation and environmental risk factors such as the impacts of climate change. Robust, functioning ecosystems support both agricultural and ecological productivity and, if managed sustainably, will support biodiversity and livelihoods indefinitely. Where key indicator species, such as Riverine Rabbits, are present, farmers can give themselves a pat on the back. Iconic apex predators such as Leopards indicate a healthy intermediate and small mammal prey base, an even bigger pat on the back to farmers conserving them. Leopards can’t change their spots; it is the people that share space with wildlife that must do the changing.

Change takes time, knowledge, and some nudging, and we can celebrate each baby step towards a better, more holistic, and peaceful farming landscape. Livestock predation is not only the farmer’s problem; the problem belongs to us all. As such, we must join forces to find solutions to help support farmers in their role as the real guardians of this country’s spectacular biodiversity. This day was a celebration of cooperation and shared experiences, with a view to finding common ground and real solutions. The day was hosted by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and co-organised and funded by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture. Watch this space. The call for more such events will be heeded!

Predator Day in Prince Albert, 2022

Featured Story

Transporting wildlife? Here’s what you need to know!

The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife in Trade Programme aims to raise awareness of wildlife laws in the domestic pet transporting industry and ensure that domestic pet transporters and other operators across South Africa understand the legal requirements for transporting wildlife.

Sign up to our newsletter

For the EWT’s latest news and fascinating stories

Find a post