Two young French researchers, Marine Drouilly and Dr Marion Tafani, are doing research in the Karoo to find out what influence predators such as jackal, caracal, baboon, and to a lesser extent leopard, have on small stock such as sheep and goats. They addressed a Gouritz Cluster Biosphere Reserve (GCBR) meeting at the Oudtshoorn Research Institute.
Drouilly, who is doing research for a doctorate, and Dr Tafani, who is doing post-doctorate research, explained some of the results of their ongoing research on the Karoo Predator Project in an area consisting of 22 farms in the Koup area near Laingsburg. They work under die direct supervision of Prof Justin O’Riain, an ecologist.
Marine proudly showing the data from her newly collared jackal in Anysberg Nature Reserve, with Marius Brand, the manager.
The research is done under the auspices of the Institute of the Communities and Wildlife of Africa at the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Cape Town. Prof Beatrice Conradie started the Karoo Predator Project in 2012, and she and Prof Nicoli Nattrass focus on the economic impact of predators on small stock farming.
The theme of Drouilly and Dr Tafani’s research is Understanding socio-ecological mechanisms behind farmer-predator conflict in the Karoo. Drouilly focuses on the frequency and
Dr Tafani following the movements of one of her baboon troops in the Karoo.
distribution of predation by jackal and caracal on small stock, while Dr Tafani particularly focuses on the predation by baboons on goat and sheep lambs. Their research is done in an area of about 60 000ha in the Karoo. They use CapeNature’s Anysberg Nature Reserve as control area.
Both researchers make use of large numbers of field cameras set up at strategic places to photograph whichever animals move in the area. A number of study animals are also fitted with lightweight GPS collars that emit a signal every five hours to monitor the animals’ movements. The signals are sent via satellite to the researchers’ cellphones so they can determine where the collared animals are.
Caracals are captured in baited cages and jackals are caught in soft traps that are set to capture only when an animal of a specific weight steps on them. They do not hurt the animal in any way, but gently holds the paw.
To determine what these animals feed on, scat samples are collected and analysed to determine their diet. Most importantly, farmers were requested to provide information in questionnaires to determine the occurrence of predatory animals on their farm, how long they have been there, how much damage they do to domestic stock, and how the farmers contain predator numbers.
GPS monitoring indicated that black-backed jackal move over a bigger area than previously believed and its home range may span a number of farms. They have bigger home ranges on private land than in a protected area. Jackal-proof fences do not keep them in, but caracal seems to be wary of electric fences. Home ranges of jackal and caracal can overlap.
Scat analyses at GPS cluster locations indicated that black-backed jackal has a marked preference for lamb and sheep on farms, probably because they are numerous and easy prey. In protected areas they mostly scavenge, but also eat small mammals such as rodents, as well as birds and berries.
Caracal prefers eating wild prey, with dassies at the top of the list, but lamb and sheep together make up the biggest part of their diet. They also feed on small antelope such as klipspringer, rabbits and hares, birds and even aardwolf and porcupine.
Drouilly found that biodiversity found inside reserved areas can be established on farms, but farmers need to find a way to tolerate predators. This can be done by decreasing sheep numbers to allow the veld to restore in order to provide food for small mammals and birds, which can serve as alternative diet for jackal and caracal.
Jackal-proof fences are ineffective, although electric fences seem to sometimes deter caracal. Most of all: “Blanket-killing needs to stop, because these predators move over a wide range and will simply move in where a void exists,” said Drouilly.
Damage caused by baboons
Picture of a young baboon by Dr Marion Tafani.
Dr Tafani has been working side by side with Drouiily for the past year, focusing on the damage baboons cause to sheep and goat lambs in particular. According to the questionnaires, the farmers have been experiencing increasing problems with baboons since 2013. She traced the baboons by the means mentioned above to determine diet, habitat and movement.
“I am really trying to understand baboon behaviour in this semi-desert area, to which they seem to be remarkably well-adapted, but may have been forced by drought and the availability of easy food to capture lambs.”
She determined that there are five troops numbering between 14 and 45 in the research area, and that their home ranges hardly ever overlap. From time to time, a young male would wander into a new group, but the groups mostly remained separate.
Water and feed
Dry riverbeds are important corridors that baboons use to travel along.
These five troops occur on open farm land, in mountainous areas and along – mostly dry – river beds. On farmland, she found that the baboons congregate at places where farmers provide artificial water (boreholes) and supplementary feed for their stock, including maize, which is the baboon’s favourite meal, with scorpions second favourite.
They also eat grass, leaves, acacia pods, berries and insects. It was not as easy to determine their diet as it was determining that of jackal and caracal, because their scat does not contain tell-tale bones and hair that can be DNA-analysed.
“It seems they are opportunistic eaters of lambs, which they catch at these watering points because they are available and easy prey. They open the skin and rip the belly open to eat the meat and the milk inside in the stomach.”
Dr Tafani believes this opportunistic feeding on lambs may be learned behaviour of some of the troops, for not all the troops do that.
At present, some farmers kill up to 100 baboons a year, while others just leave them alone. By law, three baboons may be shot per day and a permit is needed for capturing them. In some instances, poisoned mealies in a bottle, that only a baboon can get to, is used.
“There are many questions that I have no answers for at present. We would like to thank the farmers who participated in this project. Without them this project would not have been possible.” – Tisha Steyn
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