I often wonder how regularly people really interrogate what they believe to be facts and how often it’s simply easier to believe what a friend, relative or community member believes. It can sometimes be a serious pain in the neck to find out that what was generally thought to be true is in fact not. Global warming is rather an irritation now that it appears to have some scientific merit to it. An Inconvenient Truth indeed. I recently watched a Louis Theroux BBC documentary where the snappily dressed, paramilitary Lord Commander of the North American sector of The Earth Protectorate’s Alien Resistance Movement, Thor Templar, claimed to have killed at least 20 extra-terrestrials using 25th century technology; and what appears to be an axe. A little embarrassing and inconvenient for me if it turns out he is perfectly sane.
If however, we are to manage what appears to be a more universal problem (ignoring the barbaric damage which “greys” in their space ships apparently reap on unsuspecting cattle in middle-America), livestock-predator conflict, we need to know some of the facts. Humans have been, and continue to be, the cause of most carnivore losses either through direct or indirect persecution. Direct persecution is primarily based on the belief that carnivores threaten humans and/or economic resources such as livestock or game. By comparison, habitat destruction and fragmentation are considered to be the most significant indirect factors affecting carnivore numbers worldwide.
Our recent study focused on livestock-predator conflict in areas neighbouring Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, and Mkhuze Game Reserve. Theft (34%), drought (30%) and disease (14%) were ranked as the greatest problems facing livestock owners while predators were only ranked as the greatest problem by 4% of respondents. Spotted Hyaenas were most frequently blamed for depredation events despite less than 50% of the 247 respondents being able to identify a Spotted Hyaena. None of these attacks were witnessed. In the four year interview period, no attacks on livestock were attributed to Wild Dogs. The identification of guilty predators was done by evidence at the carcass or identified predator spoor, or based on hearing a call at night. Interestingly, no attacks were blamed on feral dogs despite our investigations of livestock kills between 2006 – 2010 showing more than 30% of losses could be attributed to feral dogs. However if over 80% of livestock kills occurred at night, and no more than 50% of respondents could identify what most predators (with the exception of Lions and Leopards) looked like, one has to ask how likely is it that respondents could correctly identify spoor or carcass evidence? No livestock were reportedly killed in enclosures and all respondents who lost livestock at night subsequently indicated these attacks had occurred when they had failed to return livestock to enclosures on these particular evenings. So within this blur of evidence, action and consequence, some management techniques could clearly reduce livestock-predator conflict. Furthermore, accurate identification of the actual predator responsible and the actions which led to the losses being possible, could prevent blame being apportioned incorrectly, and show random retribution to be ill advised and often rather pointless.
The project to expand and understand the current range of Wild Dogs through the diverse landscape of northern KwaZulu-Natal is carried out through a partnership between the Endangered Wildlife Trusts’ Carnivore Conservation Programme, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, the KZN Wild Dog Management Group, Wildlife ACT and Rhodes University; supported by Wildlands Conservation Trust and Jaguar Land Rover South Africa.
You, the reader, are our eyes and ears through the region. If any readers observe Wild Dogs outside of protected areas, please note the location of the sighting, whether the animal is wearing a tracking collar and identify, or ideally, photograph any characteristic markings. Please then notify Brendan Whittington-Jones on 072 992 9483