To Save Endangered Predators, You Must First Save People, says Cheetah Conservation Fund
December 10, 2013 (OTJIWARONGO, Namibia) – The world’s leading organization working to save the cheetah in the wild has published a number of new studies that together indicate if conservationists want to protect predators from extinction, they should first start by protecting people.
The studies, authored by Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) Founder and Executive Director Dr. Laurie Marker, University of Kent doctoral candidate Niki Rust (previous CCF ecologist), and Gail Potgeiter, CCF and Nelson Mandela graduate Master’s degree student, (currently employed with Namibia Nature Foundation and previous CCF Livestock Guarding Dog coordinator), show the importance of engaging with people to both learn about their problems and then assist where necessary. Two papers were conducted on communal and resettled farmlands to determine the extent to which livestock were being killed by carnivores and whether it affected tolerance towards these endangered species.
What they found was startling: carnivores were costing these communities on average US$3,460 per person annually; more than the annual salary of many of these farmers. Further, the more losses farmers had, the more negative their opinion of carnivores and the more likely they were to seek retributive action by killing them. This was found even though losses are often tied into inadequate livestock, veld and wildlife management. More importantly, researchers found that if people benefitted financially from carnivores, they had more positive views of these species.
A second part of the study, aimed at opinions held towards Namibia’s innovative conservancy system of wildlife management and conservation, indicated that many people thought that conservancies were beneficial, especially when receiving direct incentives such as meat provision. (Due to Namibia’s sustainable use policy with conservancies, communities are allowed a quota of game species if appropriate wildlife management is adhered to.) Where individuals were less positive about conservancies, they typically cited lack of assistance with problem animal control and a belief that management of the conservancy was underperforming.
Resettled farmers currently find it hard to benefit financially from carnivores as they are unable to legally form conservancies. CCF thinks an alternative to this would be to encourage the formation of cooperatives, where neighbors could organize to manage their shared land collectively and improve grazing for both livestock and wildlife. This would not only improve the health of their livestock, but would also increase income from their livestock and increase populations of wild game, creating additional benefits in the form of sustainable use and potentially tourism.
“These studies show what we at CCF have always known – that humans and predators, we’re all in this together,” says Dr. Laurie Marker, Founder and Executive Director of CCF. “The biggest threat to cheetahs in the wild is that humans living alongside cheetahs can see them as a threat to their herds. By focusing on ways to support the livelihoods of farmers, we’ve successfully reduced human-wildlife conflict. When the farmers are more secure in their livelihood, the cheetah is more likely to survive.”
One of the many ways in which Dr. Marker and CCF have been supporting farmer’s livelihoods is CCF’s Livestock Guarding Dog Programme (LSGD). CCF breeds Anatolian shepherd and Kangal dogs and places them with Namibian farmers to help guard their small livestock herds from predators. The dogs are highly effective. A recently published paper indicated that a LSGD helps owners reduce their predation rates from all predators, including cheetahs, by 80 to 100 percent. The LSGD is just one of a number of efforts led by CCF to help the people living alongside cheetahs to improve their livelihoods, in the hope that it will improve the cheetah’s chances for survival.
Two recently published papers, conducted both in Namibia and in South Africa, researched the ability of guarding dogs to protect livestock from predators. This age-old predator deterrent successfully demonstrated that dogs can fend off attacks from animals as big as hyenas and leopards. Both studies clearly showed the benefits of owning a livestock guarding dog, but they also revealed the importance of looking after the dog properly and training it to ensure that it worked to the best of its ability.
Therefore by combining research into the underlying causes of conflict with practical solutions, CCF have shown that farmers have the power to manage their livestock successfully without the need to turn to lethal predator control . CCF has also been committed to training international conservationists on the importance of these findings to help both carnivores and people in cheetah range countries. It is hoped that the skills learned from these courses can be implemented elsewhere to benefit farmers struggling to cope with cheetah and other predator presence across Africa.
“The bottom line is that you can’t ask a farmer to choose conserving wildlife over feeding his family,” says Niki Rust, who is completing her doctorate at University of Kent, and conducted some of the research for these studies with Dr. Marker during her stint at CCF one of CCF’s ecologist. “It seems obvious, but until you see it in action, it’s not something we always acknowledge: when you address the fact that the human communities living around wildlife are struggling for survival, your ability to successfully conserve wildlife populations improves dramatically.”
The studies are as follows:
N. Rust and L. Marker . “Attitudes Toward Predators and Conservancies Among Namibian Farmers,” published in Human Dimensions of Wildlife on October 25, 2013, and is available online here: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10871209.2013.819537.
N. Rust and L. Marker. “Cost of carnivore coexistence on communal and resettled land in Namibia”, published in Environmental Conservation on 3 July 2013, and is available online here:
G. Potgeiter, L. Marker, N. L. Avenant & G.I. H. Kerley. “Why Namibian Farmers Are Satisfied With the Performance of Their Livestock Guarding Dogs”, published in Human Dimensions of Wildlife on October 24, 2013, and is available online here:
Ms. Rust has also authored a second study with Katherine Whitehouse-Tedd and Douglas C. MacMillan on a similar topic called “Perceived Efficacy of Livestock-Guarding Dogs in South Africa: Implications for Cheetah Conservation” in Wildlife Society Bulletin.