Working in the field of human-wildlife conflict is an everyday challenge with different stakeholders having various interests. Predator-human conflict is a significant challenge to global conservation and food security in farming areas. In the Karoo, farmers have gone to great lengths to prevent or limit predators from killing their livestock, however their losses remain high.
When the Project started in November 2012, I had been told that I would struggle in the Karoo as a French woman not speaking a word of Afrikaans and in a difficult natural environment (the Central Karoo is remote, dry – actually a semi-desert – mountainous and with no internet/cellphone coverage for most of it). Nonetheless, my supervisors, Justin, Nicoli and Beatrice still thought it was worth it to give me a chance and I can never thank them enough for that.
My first encounter with the farming community was with Piet and Marijke Gouws, a sheep farmer and his wife in the Laingsburg District. They must have thought that this French frog was really weird to want to live in the Karoo for 3 years and hike everywhere in search of jackals and caracals, collecting scats and examining dead animals, yet they never showed it. From the very beginning, they welcomed me into their family as if I was their own daughter. Piet started introducing me to the other farmers by saying “This is Marine – not Mary or Moreen – she is French so she does not like English people, she is vegetarian and loves caracals”. I thought an introductory speech like that would have me rejected by most of the farmers. Rather it worked out well! It could have been curiosity, or perhaps an amused interest or it was simply the generous Karoo hospitality which allowed me to do this research on their land. Almost all the farmers I met have been absolutely fantastic, helpful and kind and I would like to share my thanks to all of them who have made this Project possible. People such as Lukas Botes and Déan Gous helped me from the very beginning. Each and every time I was in need of advice, they were there for me – sometimes helping without me having any knowledge about it!
Another great family who need to be thanked are the Lunds in the Beaufort West area. Gustaaf Lund approached Nicoli and Beatrice at a meeting in Laingsburg asking to be part of the Project. Without thinking much about it my supervisors told him that his farm could be a great collaring area for predator research. A few weeks after this meeting, I met André, Gustaaf’s father around a caracal capture on the Lunds farm. It was my second female and André named her Marina in my honour. Since then, on both Gustaaf’s and Peter Siebrits’, his neighbour, farms we have captured and equipped eight caracals with GPS collars which have all gathered amazing data! The best was still to come… I was in touch weekly with Gustaaf regarding the caracals and their movements. My field technician Kai Fitchen and I investigated many GPS clusters, informing the farmers about our findings. The whole family – children included (GW and Sharé) – took part in the next captures. After a few months, Gustaaf and his wife Marilize proudly declared to me: “Thanks to the data, we see that those
caracals do not eat sheep so we will stop killing caracals on our land”. As a carnivore biologist and animal lover, this is my greatest accomplishment through science! Gustaaf put camera traps lent by the Project around his various water holes and great numbers of caracals were photographed. No sheep have been killed by caracals on his farm since he made this rare declaration.
I am completely aware that this story is not reproducible everywhere or possible with all the species in the Karoo but, there are times when it works out and it is worth trying.
I leave you with some pictures of few very special “caracal moments” from the field. Enjoy!