Wanted: Non-lethal predator control

A number of non-lethal predator-control methods are available to livestock and game farmers, who are often economically hard-pressed by losses incurred through predator attacks.
Issue date : 14 November 2008

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A number of non-lethal predator-control methods are available to livestock and game farmers, who are often economically hard-pressed by losses incurred through predator attacks. But for these to be cost-effective, there needs to be a sustainable market for predator-friendly produced products, argues Roelof Bezuidenhout.
The urgent need for a nationally coordinated predator-management strategy was highlighted at a recent workshop at Willowmore in the Eastern Cape.

Currently farmers are each trying to cope with predation in their own way. This ranges from ignoring the problem and accepting the losses, which can be considerable, to regularly calling in professional hunters, at great cost, to clear lambing camps of predators. While the National Wool Growers’ Association has published a code of best practice and the Angora Goat Breeders’ is almost ready with theirs, these organisations have yet to evaluate the best predator control methods.

The losses caused by escalating caracal and black-backed jackal populations can become farmers’ biggest expense. Leopards, which are more habitat-specific, aren’t regarded as a national threat, although they can kill larger animals. At the same time several conservation bodies want to protect these powerful cats, as well as cheetahs, in livestock farming areas. Adaptable predators oday, predator management strategies have to accommodate the need for cost-effect problem-animal control as well as a possible future demand from sophisticated first-world markets for wildlife-friendly meat and fibre products. number of almost all species of wildlife, from monkeys to kudu, on South Africa’s commercial farms has increased remarkably over the years.

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This proves farmers aren’t the exterminators they’re sometimes made out to be. But they have to be seen as more conservation-conscious if the pressure on them to produce “green” products continues. Lately, there have been calls to legislate against electrified fencing, which is currently considered the most fool-proof guard against predation. Ironically, even the increasing number of medium-sized predators is due to farmers’ own doing. “We are farming with ewes that lamb all year, ensuring a steady supply of prey and an ideal situation for population expansion,” explains André Theron of Merweville in the Karoo. “In nature, or in parks, lambing and calving seasons are concentrated over a relatively short period and there are natural population regulation mechanisms in place.” Predators don’t necessarily behave the same way everywhere. In parks, jackal might be more inclined to scavenge or hunt smaller mammals such as rodents and hares. On farms, sheep and kids are easy targets. Cattle farmers have reported jackals forming packs and attacking even newborn calves.

Predator’s natural defence
The little research that has been done on black-backed jackal and caracal has been conducted in conservation areas, so very little is known about their behaviour and population dynamics when domestic livestock is their main prey. Even less is known about the possible effects of so-called predator-friendly methods to control them. While the estimated cost to the small-stock industry, the backbone of the rural economy, amounts to about R1,2 billion a year, without a scientific census there is no way of knowing if predator numbers are beyond the ecological carrying capacity of some districts or if there are actually fewer of them than is generally thought. Studies have shown hunting predators brings only short-term relief because they tend to compensate by breeding rapidly. Research has also shown that, left alone, predators tend to regulate their own populations.

Territorial jackal, for example, tend to keep out strange or nomadic jackal and shooting those males might simply create a vacuum. Theoretically, when a farmer stops hunting predators on his farm, the population settles down within just a few months, dominated by a few resident individuals. This greatly simplifies management because farmers only have to protect their flocks from a few known killers and not an endless stream of visiting ones.

The ultimate solution
The value of the Willowmore workshop was that it gave farmers who have had success with non-lethal predator control methods an opportunity to relate their experiences and motivate fellow farmers to think outside the box. But none of the methods come cheaply. And not one guarantees jackal won’t adapt, as they’ve proved themselves intelligent enough to quickly change their habits. Perhaps the ultimate solution lies in an entirely new direction, perhaps in synthetic leopard or lion urine, or some other chemical deterrent simply sprayed onto flocks. Whatever it is, it has to be cheap enough and easy enough so everyone in a district can be persuaded to use it. If not, predator control will remain an “everyone for themselves” affair, with those who do succeed merely chasing the problem across the fence. After all, young or outcast predators must go somewhere to feed and breed. That’s why a nationally coordinated effort is so important.

A vision for the future
The creation of a properly-policed, fully traceable wildlife-friendly brand of meat, which could sell at a premium as a reward mechanism for producers contributing to biodiversity conservation, was also touched on. But it’s unclear how big or sustainable such a market could be in South Africa. For most intensive farmers it’s no longer an option to kraal animals at night, and it would be unnatural to do so, or to let ewe flocks lamb near homesteads season after season, destroying veld ecology. The workshop featured several presentations on non-lethal predator control, most of them designed or adapted by small-stock owners fired up by the perplexing challenge of how to reduce lamb losses on open veld. |fw

Option 1
Sirens to irritate jackal ears
Sheep farmer André Theron farms in the arid Merweville district of the Karoo. In that region farms and camps are huge. is marketing a jakkalsjaer (jackal chaser) which consists of a solar-operated FM radio/siren combination that can be set to switch intermittently from loud radio broadcasts to emitting an alarm-like noise pitched at a frequency irritating to jackal and dogs. “Farmers in my area were losing so many lambs to jackals they were struggling to survive financially,” he says. “They asked me to investigate ways of easing the problem.

The siren seemed a good idea and to date, results have been satisfactory. We use it only for a limited period at peak lambing time. This keeps predators away long enough for the lambs to get strong enough to be fitted with collars.” he siren is effective for up to 1km and it helps to place the sirens near the jackal’s drinking water source. “Now the jackal can listen to the weather forecast during the day and dance when the sun sets,” jokes Albie Jacobs from Steytlerville after the presentation of the device.

Disadvantages: can’t be used in combination with Anatolian Shepherd dogs, and an area’s jackal could get habituated to them if they’re used too often or for too long. However, ongoing research to develop new sounds could keep them effective. Two models are available, priced at R1 550 and 950. Contact André Theron on 083 338 2025 or e-mail [email protected]. • 44 14 November 2008 |

Option 2
Collars: no more throttling Klaas Louw from Loeriesfontein manufactures the Dead Stop metal grid collar. It’s durable and strong enough to withstand the bite of any caracal or jackal. “I’m so confidant of its ability to stop predators killing lambs that I’m prepared to return the money to clients who aren’t satisfied, says Louw. “Occasionally caracal, which normally go for older lambs, change their hunting technique and catch sheep fitted with the collar from behind. But the few losses incurred this way are nothing compared to the savings the collar brings about.”

Disadvantages: The collars are rigid and not adjustable to fit the lamb as it grows. That’s why they come in five sizes, the larger ones costing R22 each. Contact Klaas on 072 424 7752. The black plastic King Collar, patented a decade ago by the Kings of Bedford in the Eastern Cape, also discourages predators from throttling prey. Gray King explains they were originally designed to deter jackal. “However, we’ve recently experienced an unprecedented influx of caracal, which are able to bite through the collar,” says King. “It comes in two sizes, both adjustable and it’s priced at between R5 and R6. Disadvantages: It sometimes shifts out of position on lamb’s necks and can break off and get lost in dense bush. Animals have to be handled individually to fit and adjust the collars. Contact Larry King on 083 261 2368 or e-mail [email protected].

Option 3
Bells, collars and chemical deterrents Eddie Steenkamp, who farms next door to a large conservation area at Beaufort West in the Western Cape, has intensively studied predator behaviour under practical farming conditions for 15 years. He has patented the well-known Bell Collars and also experiments with combinations of protective collars and scent blocks. “My strategy is to give any predator that attacks my lambs an unpleasant experience,” explains Steenkamp. “I only use lethal predator control under special circumstances. This has helped me stabilise local predator populations, despite the fact that I’m right next to a park, which farmers normally regard as a breeding ground for predators. My losses are minimal.” Disadvantages: Farmers have complained that using bells continuously eventually leads to jackals associating the tinkling sound with a “free dinner”. Contact Eddie Steenkamp on (022) 723 1842 or visit www.protect-a-lamb.com.

Option 4
Anatolian livestock guard dogs
Roy Hydenrich of Jansenville in the Noorsveld is extremely happy with Anatolian Shepherd dogs. “When I decided to farm holistically in 1999 I wanted to restore the natural food pyramid on my farm,” he explains. “As far as possible lethal control methods were out of the question and I opted for guard dogs. “Today, eight Anatolians protect my livestock in a high-density, quick-rotation grazing system in 60ha camps. Keeping the dogs is not cheap, but I’ve cut my losses to predation considerably and sleep well at night.” He cautions that there’s a certain method of rearing and handling the dogs as well as bonding them to the flock. “If you don’t follow the right recipe you could land up with a problem dog,” warns Hydenrich. “Then you’ll have to replace it.” Disadvantages: Some farmers have reported these dogs are less effective against silent, stalking caracal, particularly in bigger camps. Dogs may also chase and catch game, including young kudu. They have been known to go walk-about and even kill the lambs they’re supposed to protect. Contact Roy Hydenrich on (049) 836 9091.

Option 5
Alpacas as guard dogs
Sally Kingwell travelled to Australia where Alpacas have been used as guard animals for some time. On her return to South Africa she introducing them to her farm near Graaff-Reinet. “They’re very effective and work much like Anatolians, protecting and herding the flock, and chasing away intruders,” explains Kingwell. “Best results are achieved with a pair to a flock of 250 sheep in a 250ha camp.” A pair costs R14 000. These tall, aggressive animals intimidate intruders by chasing and spitting at them. They can kick and will stomp on enemies that don’t run away. Alpacas can live up to 25 years and their fleece has a value. Disadvantages: Like dogs they target other wildlife they see as a threat. They need the same kind of veterinary care that sheep require, so do your research thoroughly first. Contact Sally Kingwell on (049) 840 0354 or visit [email protected].