Field Report by Florian J Weise, N/a’an ku sê Principal Investigator, a Grantee of the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative
Around the world, the protection of free-roaming predator populations remains one of the most difficult conservation challenges. Although research and conservation of large carnivores have received a lot of attention, these iconic species still frequently come into conflict with local landowners.
Since 2008, N/a’an ku sê Foundation in Namibia works closely with livestock ranchers, game farmers and hunters to promote co-existence with predators on commercial farms.
The team has been involved in over 270 conflict consultations, equivalent of an impact area larger than 25,000 square kilometers (about 10,000 square miles). These on-site consultations result in anything from collaring big cats for monitoring purposes to improving livestock husbandry practices.
The researchers make use of a large arsenal of modern and traditional techniques to assist landowners in reducing existing conflicts, and no two situations are the same. Sometimes a GPS collar may provide useful insights into the local movements of big cat – information that can subsequently be shared and assessed together with the landowner – other times guardian animals or thorn bush bomas are better suited to prevent further conflict.
Some conflict properties have been visited as many as 17 times to deal with livestock depredation issues. Farmers appreciate being taken seriously on their carnivore issues and many are willing to review their local management practices in the process.
In May 2014, a leopard trapped on a commercial livestock ranch in central Namibia became N/a’an ku sê’s 500th big predator conflict case. The vast majority of these animals (over 400) have been released immediately to keep contributing to the wild gene pool. In other situations, rehabilitation of an orphaned or conflict predator may be required. Lethal control is only necessary under rare circumstances and, although individual predators can cause significant economic damage, most landowners seek alternative solutions.
Such large-scale initiatives require a lot of effort and help to be effective in conserving predators at the population level. National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative has been one of the main supporters of N/a’an ku sê’s predator programme since 2012. The BCI has provided not only significant financial support but also assists with analyses of conflict mitigation data to arrive at the right conclusions for future carnivore management strategies.