Unpacking carnivore conflict in ecological framework
A public talk, by Dr. Aletris Neils, Founder and Executive Director of Conservation CATalyst, will be held on 18 October at 19:00 at the Namibia Scientific Society.
Neils will be talking about his research on the, ‘Unraveling Carnivore Conflict in an Ecological Framework: Caracals on Namibian Farmlands’.
According to Neils the aim of their research was to examine specific life history traits that render caracals susceptible to conflict with humans, to understand the impacts of human persecution on caracal ecology, and to determine the ultimate foundation of this conflict with farmers.
He further explained that in regions where carnivores and livestock coexist, conflicts are lamentably predictable, throughout southern Africa, caracals are regarded as vermin due to livestock predation.
“Therefore in the largest research project to date on this species, we amassed data from 242 caracals on working farms throughout Namibia,” added Neils.
“We calculated relative frequencies of prey items in caracal diet from analysis of 202 caracal stomachs, 688 kill sites, and 250 caracal scats (N=1140 samples) and we recorded a total of 106 species consumed by Namibian caracal, while mammalian prey made up 83.2% of the diet, livestock comprised only 2.1% of caracal diet despite their abundance throughout the study areas,” emphasised Neils.
Neils highlighted that perceptions of caracals as livestock killers continually result in extensive persecution by farmers and the underlying causes of this persecution were investigated through 561 qualitative interviews with 367 Namibian farmers. “The Respondents indicated that drivers of conflict included drought, resource availability, and a market-driven shift from pelt to mutton breeds whose husbandry and management strategies inherently led to increased problems with predators,” he emphasised.
Neils and his team assessed demographic parameters including survival and reproduction and generated life history schedules and Kaplan-Meier survival curves, to determine whether caracal populations on Namibian farmlands can withstand current high anthropogenic mortality.
“Results indicated that southern Namibian stock farms likely represent an unstable mosaic of population sinks for caracals, relying on immigration from adjacent source areas to persist, therefore caracals on farmlands are highly skewed towards young dispersers more likely to be involved in conflicts,” said Neils.
He estimated that caracal populations are projected to decline in one of the last geographic strongholds of the species if current rates of removal continue, thus consequences of this extensive and nuanced conflict are not sustainable for stock producers or caracals in the long term.
“We offer alternative strategies for coexistence that work within the context of caracal natural history and the southern Namibian livestock industry,” concluded Neils.