Predators and predation

What is predation?

Predation is when one organism preys on another. The predation that we refer to here, is what happens when one animal kills and eats another animal.

This is a natural process, but when predators kill domesticated livestock (sheep, goats, cattle, etc.) on farms, conflict arises between the predators that roam in these areas and the farmers, because the financial losses caused by these predators can be extensive. In South Africa, many wildlife ranchers are also increasingly experiencing problems in terms of predation on the wildlife kept on the wildlife ranches. In some cases certain herds of antelope are reported to show no increase due to the fact that predators kill all the offspring produced during one breeding season. In these cases, and in cases where rare species and/or colour variants of certain antelope species are kept, enormous financial losses can pose a threat to the livelihood of the wildlife rancher.

Main predator species known to cause damage on livestock farms and for wildlife ranchers
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Caracal
  • Vagrant domestic dogs 
  • Brown hyaena
  • Leopard
  • Chacma baboon
  • Cheetah
  • Lion
  • African Wild Dog

Information will be supplied on each of these species. The information leaflets will contain information obtained through research conducted (mainly in South Africa). The first in this series covers the black-backed jackal. Leaflets will continuously be updated with the latest research.

Jackal (2)

Black-backed jackal - Beanelri Janecke

Black-backed jackal

The black-backed jackal is a highly adaptable animal, enabling it to survive in many different environments and circumstances. It is one of the most successful predators in South Africa due to this adaptability. One example is adapting its diet to a particular situation.

Feeding habits
The black-backed jackal is a generalist predator, which means that it feeds on a wide range of food items; the diet is not restricted to specific prey or food items. It is an opportunist and an omnivore, meaning that it feeds on whatever is available and easily obtainable...not only meat, but also plant material such as fruits and seeds.

Studying the diet of predators is critical if we want to understand the ways in which it obtains its food in a particular environment or under a specific set of circumstances, and to understand how it influences its prey. A better understanding of the animal and its habits is necessary to ensure more effective management of the animal in human-wildlife conflict situations.

The document Bibliography_Jackal leaflets contains the list of literature consulted to compile this series of  information leaflets on black-backed jackal. Check in regularly for updated versions of the leaflets published here. 

  • More information on mating, whelping and how jackals care for their young: Jackal reproduction

Caracal resting under the cover of a bush.

Caracal - Quinette Kruger


The caracal is a medium-sized predator and an adept climber with extraordinary speed and leaping abilities. Although the caracal is an opportunist, like other predators, it feeds mainly on medium to small mammals. It also prefers certain prey species above others. Species such as hyrax (dassie), springhare and other rodent species, which are also known to cause damage on farms, are among its preferred prey. 

Although some studies have shown that caracal on farmland generally prefer natural prey over livestock, some caracal may develop a taste for livestock. Knowing the situation on a particular farm, and the interactions among predators on that farm, may contribute substantially in effective predation management on that farm.

The list of literature consulted to compile this series of information leaflets, can be viewed in: Caracal Bibliography.

Vagrant (stray or feral) dog

When domestic dogs roam farmland, they can cause substantial damage, killing and maiming livestock and poultry. Dogs also kill small game and ground-nesting birds. Predation problems due to dogs are most common on farms close to human-dominated landscapes such as cities and towns.

Damage is caused not only by feral dogs (dogs that are roaming free and have become wild), but sometimes even well looked after pets may stray from their homes and cause damage when they come across livestock and poultry on farmland.

Dog attacks can be distinguished from attacks by natural predators in that there is not a fixed pattern of attack or feeding on a carcass. Kills are generally messy, with skin and flesh being torn from prey and bite marks at random places on the prey carcass. A sheep or goat carcass should be skinned carefully, starting at the back of the neck when there is uncertainty about which predator species is responsible for killing the animal. The placement of bitemarks on the carcass and measurements of the size of the bitemarks (distance between puncture marks made by the predators' canine teeth) can help identify the culprit. In the case of dogs, the size of the bitemarks can even help identify the dog breed involved in the attack.

Damage is most severe when dogs operate in packs and/or when several head of livestock are killed or injured during a single attack.

Predation on livestock by domestic dogs in South Africa has not enjoyed much attention in scientific literature. Therefore, the information leaflet on vagrant dogs was compiled from mainly predation management guides and manuals. See Bibliography_Vagrant dog for the list of literature consulted for this leaflet.

Adult male leopard (Panthera pardus)

Leopard - Willie Combrinck


The leopard is the most common and widest-ranging of the large predators in South Africa. It is a solitary, territorial predator. Due to its adaptation to rugged terrain and its secretive behaviour, it is commonly found outside protected areas. It prefers wooded or rocky areas and tends to avoid low-lying, open areas with human activity. 

The leopard is an excellent climber, can clear six metres in a single leap and can jump three metres high. It can also reach a maximum speed of 60 km/h and is a good swimmer. It feeds mainly on medium-sized to large ungulates. It also prefers certain prey species above others.  

Although conflict levels are low in many areas, leopards do kill livestock. Mass killings of livestock is not uncommon among leopards, and can cause substantial damage on individual livestock enterprises, which can cause retaliatory killings of leopards.

Because leopards can regulate the numbers and behaviour of not only their preferred prey species, but also other carnivores such as the black-backed jackal and caracal, understanding the the ecology of the leopard may contribute to practical predation management practices in areas where leopards still persist. 

See Leopard bibliography for the list of literature consulted to compile the first information leaflet in the series covering this species. 

Predation management guides and manuals
The following sources can be consulted for practical predation management guidelines:


Elfrieda van den Berg (Marketing Manager)
T: +27 51 401 2531

Dilahlwane Mohono (Faculty Officer)
T: +27 58 718 5284

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