The research department at N/a’an ku sê received a call for assistance from a Namibian farmer, located some 170km west of Windhoek after losing several cows to what was suspected to be spotted hyenas.
Trap cages had been set out in an attempt to catch the offending livestock raiders. However, it was not hyenas that got caught, but a magnificent leopard instead – a healthy young male estimated to be 3-4 years old.
The landowner readily gave permission for the leopard to be fitted with a GPS tracking collar and released immediately. The landowner joins the list of Namibian farmers who receive daily updates on the movements of the collared animals in a co-operative effort to understand and conserve the large carnivores of Namibia.
There can be no doubt that large carnivores sometimes cause significant conflict in Namibia. A prime example that leads to conflict is when their ranges overlap with commercial stock farming practices, and in Namibia this is the rule rather than the exception. In response to this situation, the N/a’an ku sê Carnivore Conservation Research Project was initiated in 2008, in an attempt to collaborate with Namibian livestock farmers, and thereby reduce their problems with free-ranging large predators through applied science. This has proven to be successful, with the project team having provided more than 270 consultations for landowners dealing with a variety of carnivore management issues. The project now has a total impact area of over 25 000km2, and some participants have requested assistance multiple times – some of them having made use of our expertise on up to 20 occasions.
On occasion farmers trap large predators on their properties. The team then goes out to assess the conflict situation on-site, and subsequently provides non-lethal management options. These range from improving livestock husbandry, to relocating an offending predator, or in some instances starting a joint monitoring initiative. The latter is the preferred route of operation, and to date more than 80 predators have been fitted with monitoring collars on private lands. The animals are released on site and a joint evaluation of their movements and conflict involvement begins. Daily satellite information is shared with the farmers, and livestock farming is adjusted accordingly. Interestingly, none of the collared animals have been persecuted as a result of this collaboration. Farmers appreciate and value direct involvement in big predator research and try to co-exist with these iconic species. Landowners also take a strong interest in the general ecology of their local predators, and in turn provide own observations which supplement research efforts. Together a more holistic assessment of carnivore conflict is created.
Through these direct farmer interactions, the researchers have been involved in the management of over 500 large predators, including mainly cheetah, leopard and brown hyena. By providing pragmatic and cost-effective management options, and monitoring their outcomes scientifically, the result is often that lethal persecution is halted altogether, and tolerance of large carnivores increases locally. Both are important aspects in maintaining a viable breeding habitat for big cats in the wild, as large predators mainly persist on livestock production lands, as opposed to formally protected areas.
Other research endeavours deal with improving wildlife tracking technology, as well as determining the population status of highly endangered African wild dogs in northern Namibia. The team is also involved in developing footprint identification software for the monitoring of wild cheetahs. Following N/a’an ku sê’s slogan “Conservation through Innovation”, the ultimate idea behind the Carnivore Research Project is to use modern technology and evidence-based management protocols to improve human-wildlife co-existence across southern Africa’s savannahs.
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