New research

A considerable body of research covering various predator species has been conducted in South Africa in recent years. To create a clearer picture about research on different predator species and/or different aspects of human-predator conflict across southern Africa, this page aims to present readers with a single location where such information can be accessed.

Some of the most recent research will be summarised here, as compiled by the original author(s).

The summary below covers research completed in 2019 by Dr Quinette Kruger from the University of the Free State:

Developing a management information system for coordinated predation management in South Africa
The negative impact of predation on livestock production is considered a major concern for food security and the economy in South Africa. The controversial nature of predation management, and the lack of scientific information and a structured approach or framework have hampered initiatives to devise effective and acceptable management strategies to reduce predation on a large scale in South Africa. Predation on livestock is reportedly increasing in some areas, and large numbers of predators are then killed in efforts to reduce predation. The management of human-predator conflicts depends on identification, implementation, evaluation and continuous improvement of methods developed by research. But, as in the rest of the world, South Africa has no framework for conducting such research. Although we have learnt a lot about predation management through research, it is difficult to compare the results of research projects to help us understand the “bigger picture” across South Africa.

Purpose of the study
Initially, the project aimed to “zoom in” (investigate predation vs predation management on farm level) on some of the areas where high levels of predation on small livestock had previously been reported as part of the Canis-Caracal Programme (CCP). The CCP aims to investigate the impact of predation on the livestock farming and wildlife ranching industries and assess the role of predation management practices in relieving human-predator conflicts. Part of the study focused on developing a tool to help livestock farmers and wildlife ranchers report predation easily and accurately. But, due to the inherent challenges of conventional data collection methods and the challenges of efforts to coordinate data collection, the focus of the project shifted more towards the development of a methodology. The aim of developing such a methodology was to ensure the collection of the most relevant predation management information for scientific study and to lay the foundation for incorporating future human-predator conflict research into a more extensive “Management Information System” or MIS. Such an MIS would provide a basis on which to build institutional memory, serving industry with an information management function to support coordinated efforts of predation management in South Africa.

Key findings and outcomes
Many farmers, specialist predator hunters and wildlife managers record predation and predation management activities. But such information is rarely available for informing predation management practices on a larger scale. Between 2017 and 2019, databases were created by the Predation Management information Centre (PMiC) at the University of the Free State to serve as administrative backbone for an MIS. Therefore, I concentrated on developing a methodology to integrate such information into an MIS. Using software designed for scientific research, mobile applications (“apps”) were developed as part of the methodology to collect detailed, standardised (the same type of information in each study), real-time (as it happens or as it is observed) spatiotemporal (where and when) data in future research efforts., The apps were designed to help farmers report predation and predator control as it happens on their farms, and integrating the information seamlessly into the MIS. The “Livestock and wildlife losses” and “Predator control” apps were tested with data collected using questionnaires at the start of the project. The “Predator control” app was further tested in the field by specialist predator hunters.

The “Livestock and wildlife losses” app can be used to report predation by different predator species, as well as vagrant dogs. Losses due to other causes such as environmental factors, theft or disease can also be reported. Data collected with the “Predator control” app can give clues into the biology and ecology of predators in specific areas and during certain times.

Large amounts of data can be collected and processed in a more time and cost-effective manner using this methodology, compared to conventional methods. Also, because the data is standardised, results of future research projects will be comparable. After analysing and processing such information, scientists can help authorities and industry to:
⦁ Identify predation hotspots and predict predation risk so that experts can be assigned and resources allocated according to the biological and social circumstances of specific conflict situations
⦁ Evaluate the efficiency and monitor the outcomes of management strategies in different situations for continuous improvement and to shed light on emerging conflicts
⦁ Incorporate scientific knowledge and the knowledge and experience of farmers and predation management specialists in formulating best practices tailored to specific regions and specific predator species
⦁ Develop policy based on this institutional memory, and thereby also ensuring the implementation of research findings and continuous flow of relevant, current information into the MIS for evaluating and monitoring coordinated efforts
⦁ Provide targeted, practical training and extension services to livestock farmers, wildlife ranchers, predation management specialists (in the public and private sectors), and the public, based on current research

But collaboration between tertiary and research institutions, government and non-government organisations, farmers, ranchers, predation management specialists and consumers is necessary on a local, regional, provincial, as well as national level.

⦁ Refining and testing the apps on a larger scale and in different settings to identify potential shortfalls and ensure relevance in various scenarios.
⦁ Reinstating an official framework under an authoritative body to professionalise predation management through the development of sound policies, improved methodology and best practices. 
⦁ For an MIS to make a meaningful contribution to coordinated predation management, several social factors will need to be addressed to ensure the flow of information through the system, including:
⦁ frequent shifts in government structures
⦁ limited availability of government officials knowledgeable in predation management-related matters
⦁ lack of communication and coordination within and between the various government departments (provincial and national), as well as within and between other stakeholder groupings
⦁ distrust between individuals and groups with contrasting objectives. Future attempts at mitigating human-predator conflicts should incorporate a strong social component to build trust between stakeholder groups and individuals and encourage their continued involvement. Stakeholders and role players must understand their own role and the roles of other individuals or groups to achieve coordinated action and avoid wasting time and valuable resources by duplication of fragmented planning, research and implementation actions.
Sheep in the Free State
Sheep grazing in the grasslands of the Free State
Photo: Q Kruger, 2019

Mobile applications
Predation can be reported as it is observed in the field using the mobile applications
Photo: Q. Kruger, 2019

Predator Control app
An example of a screen from the apps
The apps were designed to be user-friendly, and to incorporate photographs and voice notes for users to share their knowledge and experience

Livestock losses_All
Cartographic representation of the number of stock losses (including predation), from data collected at the start of the study.

The following summary covers research completed earlier this year by Dr Renelle Terblanche from Stellenbosch University:

Ongediertes: A critical qualitative study of farmer–black-backed jackal conflict and its management around the Square Kilometre Array core site in the Northern Cape, South Africa

While calls for more jackal ecology studies are beginning to be met in the natural sciences, comparatively little attention has been paid to the human aspects of farmer–jackal conflict. In order to address this gap, my PhD dissertation explores farmer–jackal conflict and the most effective way to manage this relationship in the context of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope in the Karoo (approximately 90km outside Carnarvon in the Northern  Cape) and the human–human conflict surrounding it locally.

The erection of the SKA radio telescope has drawn international attention to South Africa’s semi-arid Karoo region because of the astronomical significance of its science agenda. To ensure the optimal functionality of the Array, the South African state has purchased farms totalling approximately 130 000ha, which have been withdrawn from sheep production and placed under conservation management. Commercial farmers neighbouring the SKA core site have voiced concerns that this is threatening their livelihoods and the local economy; a major concern is that the park will become a haven for black-backed jackals which predate on their sheep.

Purpose and aims of the research
Using critical realism and political ecology for my theoretical framework, and drawing on the literature on human–wildlife conflict and social capital, I explore farmer–jackal conflict around the SKA core site and the proposed nature reserve. My primary research findings reveal the different understandings of jackals among the actors involved in jackal management, as well as the significance of the characterisation of jackals as ongediertes (literally, non-animals) in popular culture. I also show how power relations around knowledge production in jackal management are exercised, in particular the dominance of scientific knowledge over local knowledge, and consider the role of jackal management in collective action.
By conducting my research in the shadow of the SKA, between February 2016 and July 2019, it also became clear to me that the arrival of the SKA in this Karoo farming community has not only brought the struggle regarding appropriate and successful jackal management strategies to the fore, but also the struggle over land and power. This is accompanied by struggles over meaning, nostalgia, belonging, autonomy and authority.

Key findings
My findings show that farmers’ perceptions of themselves as losing their autonomy and struggling to control jackal predation have been exacerbated by the arrival of the SKA; their struggles against the SKA and the jackal have thus become fused in complex ways, lending support to the idea of the jackal as a trope for the larger developments around the SKA. In this unequal relationship, the farmers find themselves dictated to not only by the professional scientific elites involved in jackal ecology but also by those involved in the yet more powerful science of radio astronomy. Both jackals and the SKA contravene farmers’ understanding of the ‘natural’ order in the Karoo, in which man controls nature (i.e. non-humans) to serve his needs, and undermine their former dominance. Farmers in the Kareeberg are struggling to re-assert their authority; in this context jackals are the one thing in their immediate environment which they feel they still have agency over and, as a result, the jackal has become the focus of farmers’ frustrations.

My dissertation concludes that effective management of human–jackal conflict around the SKA core site (and thereby of the human–human conflict to which it is linked) requires an investment in building interpersonal and institutional trust as well as drawing on the resources of both scientific and local knowledge.

Recommendations for future work
I have identified several areas for future work – both research and pragmatic – throughout my study:
1. Farmers’ highlighted the need for context-specific research on jackal management, which for them means scaling down as far as the farm level.
2. Focus on the factors that hinder or encourage individual Karoo farmers in implementing non-lethal predation management strategies.
3. Involve life scientists and/or professional vermin hunters in the presentation of short courses in the Kareeberg region.
4. Establish an official platform or platforms in the region that brings ecologists, zoologists, farmers, voetjagters and professional vermin hunters together, to share their jackal management knowledge with one another.
5. Involve farmers and voetjagters in policymaking discussions related to jackal management in the same way as some professional vermin hunters are involved.
6. Document Karoo voetjagters’ knowledge and collect the life histories of people who have been disregarded for so long.
7. During my fieldwork I was made very aware of the major social challenges on farms around the SKA core site and in the broader region, which constitute another important area of work, both research and advocacy. Examples of such challenges include alcohol abuse and the inequalities and physical abuses still embedded in the apparently paternalistic relationships on Karoo farms.
8. Promote interdisciplinary work involving wildlife managers and social scientists.
In conclusion, it is my hope that my dissertation will not only encourage wildlife managers to recognise the need to incorporate an understanding of human dynamics in wildlife management decisions, but also increase interest among social scientists in further research on the sociology of human–jackal conflict as well as human–wildlife conflict more generally, and thereby contribute to solutions that reduce the conflicts and promote co-existence among different interest groups, as well as between humans and non-humans.

Ongediertes: A critical qualitative study of farmer–black-backed jackal conflict and its management around the Square Kilometre Array core site in the Northern Cape, South Africa for full text of the thesis.

Black-backed jackals at play
Black-backed jackals at play near Rooiputs in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Photo: Etienne & Ilda Terblanche, 2018
A cartographic representation of the SKA core site

A cartographic representation of the SKA core site. The map also indicates the two original farms that were bought for the project, the spiral arms extending from the core site and the four major towns surrounding the core site.
Source: CSIR, 2016

A view of the SKA development

A view of the SKA astronomy development in South Africa’s Northern Cape Province in 2018.
Photo: SKA SA

Sheep in the Karoo

For Kareeberg farmers, the SKA is a major change (and threat) to what they consider to be the ‘natural order’ in the Karoo, namely a landscape that is organized and dedicated to commercial sheep farming.
Photo: Renelle Terblanche, 2017

Some other recent studies conducted on the most common damage-causing predator species include the following topics:

Studies focusing on the conflict between predators and humans (particularly livestock farmers and wildlife ranchers) include:

For links to more predator-related publications, visit the Cape Leopard Trust's Scientific Publications webpage.

Photograph taken by Beanelri Janecke
Black-backed jackal - Beanelri Janecke


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