Latest research from the Karoo Predator Project

Hi everyone,

What a strange and stressful year 2020 has been! We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and keeping healthy during this time. Although the pandemic completely modified our normal lives and prevented us from conducting our current missions, it gave us the opportunity to write and publish some of our research conducted under the Karoo Predator Project.

Here, we are presenting three papers. The first one is a review published in the Journal Mammal Review and led by Prof. Nattrass about what science and history can bring to our understanding of the interactions between black-backed jackals and small-livestock farmers in South Africa. The second one is a collaborative paper with the researchers from the Namaqualand P.E.A.C.E. project of the NGO the Cape Leopard Trust. We studied the diet of livestock guarding dogs used to protect sheep/goats from predators on farms in Namaqualand. It is published in the special issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Biology on “Dogs and Conservation”. Finally, for the last article, Dr. Drouilly was invited to participate in a review about our current state of knowledge on the species Caracal, written by American students from the University of Arizona. It is published in Mammalian Species, the journal of the American Society of Mammalogists. You can find the abstracts of the three papers below and the links to the full papers by clicking here.


Learning from science and history about black‐backed jackals Canis mesomelas and their conflict with sheep farmers in South Africa
Nicoli Nattrass, Marine Drouilly, M. Justin O’Riain

The black‐backed jackal Canis mesomelas, henceforth jackal, has re‐emerged as a threat to South African sheep farmers. This sparked contestation between farmers and conservationists over the reasons for their return and the relative merits of lethal and non‐lethal approaches to protecting livestock. Three separate reviews of the scientific literature converged on the same broad conclusion that lethal control of jackals is probably ineffective, but that more scientific research is necessary, especially on farms. We draw on historic evidence and recent research across a range of disciplines to show that jackal diet and behaviour varies regionally and alter in response to changing threats and opportunities. More data will not support generalisable conclusions and have already been eclipsed by broad‐scale changes in the political, economic and ecological landscapes of South Africa. Reduced government support for farmers, rising production costs and falling product prices, together with an increasing frequency of droughts, have conspired to weaken the collective management hand of farmers and, ultimately, contributed to a decline in the sheep farming industry. Many sheep farmers have sold their land to non‐commercial ‘lifestyle’ farmers or expanding nature reserves, creating a growing network of safer spaces for jackals to persist, from which their offspring can sink into neighbouring commercial farmland. When these landscape‐level changes are combined with the wide phenotypic plasticity and catholic diet of the jackal, we should be neither surprised at their resurgence nor contented with suggestions that more ecological research is likely to facilitate any sustainable solutions.

Investigating the hidden costs of livestock guarding dogs: a case study in Namaqualand, South Africa
Marine Drouilly, Caitlin Kelly, Bogdan Cristescu, Kristine J. Teichman, M. Justin O’Riain

The use of livestock guarding dogs (LGDs) has been widely advocated as a responsible tool for reducing livestock predation and conserving wildlife. However, their hidden ecological costs have rarely been investigated. We analysed scats (n = 183) from six LGDs and visited Global Positioning System (GPS) location clusters (n = 352) from nine GPS-collared LGDs to reconstruct their diet and assess impacts on wildlife and livestock in Namaqualand, South Africa. Wild mammals, including 10 native species, and small-livestock were the main secondary foods (i.e. besides dog food pellets). A total of 90% of scats and one third of GPS clusters investigated had associated animal remains. When accompanied by a human attendant, fewer LGD scats contained animal matter (39.9%; of which 32.3% wild mammals and 4.6% livestock), in contrast to scats of LGDs on their own (93.2%; 14.4% wild mammals, 75.4% livestock). Similarly, few clusters of accompanied LGDs included animal remains (5.7%; of which 43.8% wild mammals and 31.3% livestock), whereas unaccompanied dogs clustered frequently at carcasses (92.4%; 16% wild mammals, 74% livestock). While sample sizes were relatively small and some dogs might have scavenged, we emphasize the importance of rigorous training and intensive monitoring of LGDs to correct unwanted predation behaviour and to maximize their ecological and protective benefits.

Caracal caracal (Carnivora: Felidae)
Amanda M. Veals, Alexandra D. Burnett, Marina Morandini, Marine Drouilly, John L. Koprowski

Caracal caracal (Schreber, 1776) is a felid commonly called the caracal. It is a slender, medium-sized cat (5.8–22 kg) characterized by a short tail and long ear tufts. C. caracal has a wide distribution and is found throughout Africa, north to the Arabian Peninsula, the Middle East, central and southwest Asia into India; its habitat includes arid woodlands, savanna, scrublands, hilly steppes, and arid mountainous regions. It is globally listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as “Least Concern” despite population trends unknown across most of its geographic distribution. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists Asian populations under Appendix I and African populations under Appendix II.

The lock-down is a good time to read some papers, enjoy!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Research on tick-borne pathogens in caracals published by the Karoo Predator Project

Dear followers,

Today, we would like to give you some news from our collaborator and post-graduate student, Storme Viljoen. Storme was working on the Karoo Predator Project and her MSc thesis project was titled: “Wildlife health in human-modified landscapes: epidemiology of tick-borne pathogens affecting black-backed jackals and caracals”.

Storme has recently published her work related to tick-borne pathogens in caracals so we’ve asked her to give us some news about what she’s been up to since her MSc, as well as some info about her newly published paper. Here is a message from her:

“It has certainly been a long time since I provided any news, but the time has been well spent and fruitful. Since graduating in 2017, I have been working in conservation research and education, and am currently working as a project manager with an international non-government organisation that focusses on wildlife trade. I’ve lived and worked in Kruger National Park and even travelled to Sweden to work with farmers on their human-wildlife conflict challenges! I worked with a number of PhD students looking at crop damage by geese and cranes and learned about research being done on red foxes and grey wolves. They were fascinated to hear about our wildlife in SA!

Storme working hard in the Karoo to collect blood and tissue samples from a dead caracal. Picture by N. Houdin & D. Palanque.

However, what prompts me to write an update now is some really fantastic news. After a great deal of hard work and collaboration, we have finally published our article on the blood pathogens carried by South African caracals. We compared the populations from the Central Karoo with others in Namaqualand and Cape Town and found that the farmland caracals showed very distinctive infections compared with those living close to urban areas in Cape Town. Central Karoo and Namaqualand have much lower levels of infection, and are not affected by pathogens also carried in domestic dogs and cats. This is the first research focussed exclusively on caracals as hosts of blood pathogens to be published in the world, and we are pleased to say that it was published in a well-respected international journal, Parasites and Vectors. Once again, many thanks to all of the supporters of the Karoo Predator Project. In particular, thank you to the farmers who hosted us, included us in meetings and helped us with our important research.”

Storme preparing blood slides from black-backed jackals and caracals for further analyses in the lab in Cape Town. Picture by N. Houdin & D. Palanque.

Congratulations Storme! We, at the Karoo Predator Project, are very proud of what you’ve accomplished since the end of your MSc and well done on publishing your research. We wish you all the best in your future conservation work!

You can read Storme’s scientific article by following this link:


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Culling recolonizing mesopredators increases livestock losses

Dear readers,

The Karoo Predator Project has recently published a new peer-reviewed paper in the international, multi-disciplinary journal Ambio. The paper, titled “Culling recolonizing mesopredators increases livestock losses: Evidence from the South African Karoo” shows that, by using two different measures of livestock losses, lethal control of black-backed jackals and caracals on small-livestock farms in the Central Karoo of South Africa was associated with increased livestock losses the following year. Interestingly, terrain ruggedness (that is, a measure of the ground unevenness) was also positively associated with livestock losses. On the contrary, the more farmworkers there were on a farm, the less livestock losses we recorded. The full paper can be requested here.

The abstract of the paper:

Populations of adaptable mesopredators are expanding globally where passive rewilding and natural recolonization are taking place, increasing the risk of conflict with remaining livestock farmers. We analysed data from two social surveys of farmers in the Karoo, South Africa, where black-backed jackals (Canis mesomelas) and caracals (Caracal caracal) have re-emerged as a threat to sheep farms in the context of falling agricultural employment and the expansion of natural areas. We show that irrespective of measurement approach, lethal control of mesopredators in this fragmented socio-economic landscape was associated with increased livestock losses the following year. Terrain ruggedness was positively, and number of farmworkers negatively, associated with livestock losses. Our study provides further evidence that lethal control of mesopredators in this context is probably counter-productive and supports calls to develop, share and financially support a range of non-lethal methods to protect livestock, especially where natural recolonization of mesopredators is occurring.

Graphical abstract showing that culling recolonizing mesopredators increases livestock losses the following year on South African Karoo sheep farms.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New publication for the Karoo Predator Project

Dear readers,

Despite her commitments in France with Eurasian lynx, Marine has finally found some time to publish her research on black-backed jackal and caracal diet through the investigation of GPS location clusters that she compared with scat analysis. The article was published in the Journal of Zoology. She found that the GPS location cluster technique was suitable to study caracal diet on Karoo farmland but that it was not detecting the small prey components in jackal diet. So it’s better to collect and analyze scats as well if the goal is to get a full image of what jackals eat in this region. A finding that farmers know already was that both jackals and caracals on farms were found to kill livestock and not simply to scavenge on it. Interestingly though, that was not the case of jackals living in Anysberg Nature Reserve, even when those jackals explored the surrounding farmland! Anysberg jackals were not killing livestock when they left the protected area. We are not sure why it is the case but we hypothesized that these jackals might not readily consider livestock as a prey species. We know from a previous study we conducted on their diet through scat analysis that jackals eat a lot of small rodents and berries in Anysberg Nature Reserve (see that study here). Once they are on neighboring farmland, they might look for these same types of prey to feed on rather than for sheep. They also do not spend a lot of time on farmland. More research would need to be conducted to validate or invalidate this hypothesis though, and to study how long it would take for jackals to start eating sheep on those farms if they were staying there for a longer time. Regarding caracals on farmland, we found that adult males were preying more on livestock than young individuals or females.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

Studying the feeding ecology of mesopredators living on or adjacent to farmland is important as livestock predation fuels conflict between farmers and predators and between diverse stakeholders on how to best manage this conflict. Most dietary studies on elusive and heavily persecuted predators rely on indirect methods such as scat analysis, because direct observations of predation events are rare. Consequently, the proportion of livestock and other prey that was actively hunted vs. scavenged remains largely unknown. We used data from global positioning system collars affixed to black‐backed jackal (Canis mesomelas) and caracal (Caracal caracal) to locate potential feeding sites on farmland and a protected area and to attempt to determine whether prey had been killed or scavenged. We compared dietary estimates from prey items found at global positioning system location clusters (GLCs) with those obtained from scat analysis and investigated whether GLC analysis is a suitable method to determine mesocarnivore diet. The success rate of finding a kill site when investigating GLCs was significantly higher for caracal than for jackal. Only 16.2% and 4.7% of jackal and caracal GLCs, respectively, were classified as scavenging events. Livestock was the most frequently detected prey in both scats and GLCs on farmland but GLCs provided a higher estimate of sheep biomass than scats. Caracal GLCs revealed prey ranging in size from small to large, whereas jackal GLCs were only for medium and large prey categories. Adult male caracals predated significantly more on livestock than females and younger individuals. Collared jackals residing in the protected area never formed GLCs containing livestock remains on neighbouring farms. Together, GLCs and scat analyses provide a more complete understanding of mesopredators feeding ecology on farmland. We recommend that both methods are applied, particularly in regions where livestock predation and lethal management of predators are driving conflict between stakeholders.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Insights into the genetic population structure of black-backed jackal and caracal in South Africa

Hi everyone,

With our colleagues from the University of Johannesburg, we have published a short communication on the genetic population structure of black-backed jackal and caracal in South Africa.

Although we did not have a very large sample size, based on our results it seems like dispersal and population admixture occur frequently enough to avoid genetic differentiation in jackals and caracals in South Africa.

In the future, it would be interesting to get more samples to be able to detect finer population structure at a smaller-scale resolution.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Karoo mesopredator GPS data used on a collaborative project

Data from the GPS collars we fitted on jackals and caracals in the Karoo have been integrated into analyses led by the Department of Wildlife Sciences at the University of Goettingen, Goettingen, Germany and the School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography at the Bangor University, Bangor, United Kingdom. You can find the full length article here. Otherwise, here is the abstract.

Right on track? Performance of satellite telemetry in terrestrial wildlife research


Satellite telemetry is an increasingly utilized technology in wildlife research, and current devices can track individual animal movements at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions. However, as we enter the golden age of satellite telemetry, we need an in-depth understanding of the main technological, species-specific and environmental factors that determine the success and failure of satellite tracking devices across species and habitats. Here, we assess the relative influence of such factors on the ability of satellite telemetry units to provide the expected amount and quality of data by analyzing data from over 3,000 devices deployed on 62 terrestrial species in 167 projects worldwide. We evaluate the success rate in obtaining GPS fixes as well as in transferring these fixes to the user and we evaluate failure rates. Average fix success and data transfer rates were high and were generally better predicted by species and unit characteristics, while environmental characteristics influenced the variability of performance. However, 48% of the unit deployments ended prematurely, half of them due to technical failure. Nonetheless, this study shows that the performance of satellite telemetry applications has shown improvements over time, and based on our findings, we provide further recommendations for both users and manufacturers.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A new paper and a collaboration with Australian and South African colleagues for the Karoo Predator Project

Dear readers,

The Karoo Predator Project is glad to announce the publication of its new paper regarding the “wildlife winners and losers of entensive small-livestock farming in the Karoo”.

Wildlife winners and losers of extensive small-livestock farming: a case study in the South African Karoo


Extensive farming is an important source of food and fibre and often the only viable land use in the more arid regions of the globe. Yet, land use transformation for livestock grazing can lead to natural habitat degradation and fragmentation, identified as the main threats to biodiversity worldwide. Understanding which species are “winners” (i.e. species with a higher relative abundance index on farmland than protected area) and “losers” (i.e. species that have been extirpated or have a lower relative abundance index on farmland) in farming landscapes is crucial for the global sustainability of food production and biodiversity conservation. We used camera traps across 332 locations, over 23,796 trap nights to compare species richness and several aspects of community diversity (evenness, dominance, functional diversity and community structure) on 22 extensive small-livestock farms and a nearby protected area in the semi-arid region of the Karoo, South Africa. Species richness was not significantly different between the two land uses, but there were important differences in community structure and composition. Large carnivores were the “losers” of extensive livestock farming. Farmland displayed a lower effective number of species and functional diversity and a higher dominance than the protected area. The latter had a positive influence on the presence of large mammals and on the relative abundance of the region’s main mesopredator, the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas). Contrary to consensus, extensive small-livestock farming may be beneficial to some species and may therefore represent an important opportunity for biodiversity conservation outside of formally protected areas.

The Karoo Predator Project has also participated in a collaborative paper about the animal welfare considerations for using large carnivores and guardian dogs as vertebrate biocontrol tools against other animals, led by Benjamin L. Allen from the University of Southern Queensland, Australia and the Centre for Invasion Biology, South Africa.

Animal welfare considerations for using large carnivores and guardian dogs as vertebrate biocontrol tools against other animals


Introducing consumptive and non-consumptive effects into food webs can have profound effects on individuals, populations and communities. This knowledge has led to the deliberate use of predation and/or fear of predation as an emerging technique for controlling wildlife. Many now advocate for the intentional use of large carnivores and livestock guardian dogs as more desirable alternatives to traditional wildlife control approaches like fencing, shooting, trapping, or poisoning. However, there has been very little consideration of the animal welfare implications of deliberately using predation as a wildlife management tool. We assess the animal welfare impacts of using dingoes, leopards and guardian dogs as biocontrol tools against wildlife in Australia and South Africa following the ‘Five Domains’ model commonly used to assess other wildlife management tools. Application of this model indicates that large carnivores and guardian dogs cause considerable lethal and non-lethal animal welfare impacts to the individual animals they are intended to control. These impacts are likely similar across different predator-prey systems, but are dependent on specific predator-prey combinations; combinations that result in short chases and quick kills will be rated as less harmful than those that result in long chases and protracted kills. Moreover, these impacts are typically rated greater than those caused by traditional wildlife control techniques. The intentional lethal and non-lethal harms caused by large carnivores and guardian dogs should not be ignored or dismissively assumed to be negligible. A greater understanding of the impacts they impose would benefit from empirical studies of the animal welfare outcomes arising from their use in different contexts.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The KPP at the 2nd International Jackal Symposium

From the 31st of October to the 2nd of November, the Second International Jackal Symposium (2IJS) was taking place in Marathon Bay, Greece. A great opportunity for both Marine and Nicoli to present their research on jackals. Marine gave a presentation about some of her PhD work based on the questionnaires she conducted with farmers. She talked about the re-emergence of black-backed jackals in the Central Karoo, farmers’ attitudes towards jackals and their strategies to limit their predation on livestock. Nicoli talked about her paper on the jackal narratives, livestock losses due to jackals and the use of poison on farmland.

Entrance to the conference hall in Marathon Bay, Greece.

The conference gathered researchers from Europe, India, Australia, North America and Africa and the subjects were very diverse: from taxonomy and sustainable hunting to scientific monitoring of jackals. Seven species were highlighted during this conference: the golden jackal (Canis aureus), the side-striped jackal (Canis adustus), the black-backed jackal (Canis mesomelas), the coyote (Canis latrans), the African wolf (Canis anthus), the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes) and the most endangered canid species in the world, the Ethiopian wolf (Canis simensis).

The conference edited a book with the scientific papers of the participating scientists, available here.

Nicoli giving her talk “What does science and history tell us about black-backed jackals and their conflict with sheep farmers in South Africa? ” at the 2IJS.

Marine’s presentation at the 2IJS in Greece.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New paper published about the conflict between predators and small-livestock farmers in the Karoo

Dear readers,

The Karoo Predator Project is happy to announce the publication of its recent research in a special issue (“Karoo Special Issue: Trajectories of Change in the Anthropocene”) of the African Journal of Range and Forage Science, titled “Spatial, temporal and attitudinal dimensions of conflict between predators and small-livestock farmers in the Central Karoo”. The paper, written by Marine, Marion, Nicoli and Justin, uses some of the questionnaire data collected by Marine in 2014 and 2015 during the interviews she conducted with small-livestock farmers in the Central Karoo. The paper can be downloaded from this page (restricted access) or be sent upon request. The abstract of the paper can be found below.

Conflict between predators and small-livestock farmers is a global phenomenon adversely impacting the preservation of wildlife, the well-being of livestock and human livelihoods. Such conflict is pervasive in the Karoo region of South Africa but its contemporary history and various causes remain poorly understood. In this study, we interviewed 77 small-livestock farmers in the Central Karoo between July 2014 and March 2015 to (1) assess the spatio-temporal distribution and severity of the reported predation problems with the main regional predators of livestock (black-backed jackal, caracal and baboon) and (2) describe the perceived reasons for changes in predator numbers. Farmers reported that serious predation problems have increased since the 1990s for all three predators. Jackal predation appears to have re-emerged, particularly since the 2000s, while baboon predation seems to have escalated rapidly since 2014 for select farmers. Farms with more rugged terrain were more likely to experience serious problems with baboons and caracal but ruggedness did not predict the year of onset of problems. Farmers perceive predator numbers to be increasing and attribute this trend to declining government support for predator management, changes in farming practices and the associated increase in suitable predator habitat, from which they can recolonise commercial farms.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The re-emergence of black-backed and golden jackals

On the 20th of October, Marine was invited to talk about the Eurasian lynx at the 40th French Mammalogical Conference in the town of Caen (western France). It was also the opportunity for her to give another presentation, this time about some of her PhD work on jackals. And because the conference was in Europe, she also spoke about golden jackals.

She drew a parallel between the re-emergence of black-backed jackals in the Karoo (more about that in a future post) and the expansion of golden jackals across Europe. She started by showing the incredible ecological flexibility of both species. She then demonstrated that anthropogenic factors were the reasons for the fall in jackal numbers in both areas (mostly due to hunting and poisoning campaigns) and that the reasons for the re-emergence and expansion of both species were probably to be found in the synergy of different factors, from the probable diminution/extirpation of large carnivores, notably grey wolves for golden jackals, and lions and leopards for black-backed jackals (i.e. mesopredator release), to the change in land use in each area, the ending of large-scale legal poisoning campaigns and bounty hunting, and the change in the legal status of the two species, as well as a more positive public opinion towards the canids.

The presentation was also a good opportunity to discuss with the audience about the first golden jackal presence records in France (2017) and the likelihood for the species to permanently settle in.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment