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!