Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 113

the baboons’ situation. Through applied research
and public engagement, we could empower
communities to become informed and actively
contribute to policy change.”
They also provided expert advice on baboons for
management plans, protocols and policy documents,
and soon recognised that they also needed to
bring other experts on board. “When you have a
sociologist, economist, biologist, philosopher and
psychologist all working together,” says O’Riain, “you
begin to see long-term solutions, when previously
there was only a wicked problem.”
The team worked closely with the City of Cape Town,
South African National Parks and CapeNature and
published data that has informed both policy
and management interventions to reduce
conflict on the Cape Peninsula. “Such was
the success of the collaboration,” he
says, “that the ethos has permeated
provincial and national policy.”
The team has since been involved in
a number of other human–wildlife
conflict challenges in the Western
Cape, most notably in the drylands
of the Karoo, where Associate
Professor Beatrice Conradie, director
of the Sustainable Societies Unit in the
School of Economics, and Nicoli Nattrass,
professor of economics at the Centre for Social
Science Research, were breaking new ground on
one of South Africa’s oldest problems – predators
and livestock.
The leopard and the lamb
In the Karoo, land is mainly used for low-density livestock
farming, which allows indigenous wildlife to persist,
including predators such as leopard, jackal and caracal.
“This has produced one of the most pervasive and
complex conservation conflicts in South Africa. It
threatens the sustainability of livestock farming, impacts
adversely on wildlife welfare and fuels conflict between
government, non-governmental organisations, society
and academics on both the causes of, and appropriate
management responses to, predation in arid farmlands,”
says O’Riain.
It is here that the researchers have revealed the value
of an interdisciplinary team for tackling complex
problems. From farmers’ stoeps to remote Karoo
town halls, they are shedding new light on the murky
intersection of sociology, politics, economics and
biology in the drylands of South Africa. “Any one of
us working alone would be severely limited in our
understanding of the collective challenges,” says
O’Riain, “but together we provided a new approach,
firstly to understanding the extent of the challenges
facing small livestock farmers, and secondly
providing alternatives that will benefit wildlife,
domestic animals and the people of the Karoo.”
The SKA conservation challenge
The internationally acclaimed Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
project poses another interesting conservation challenge.
“The project has acquired a large number of private
farms to create a contiguous ‘quiet’ area within which
the radio telescopes are being constructed,” says
O’Riain. “This land, which has been used for farming for
more than 400 years, will now be returned to a more
natural state. We will partner with the South African
Environmental Observation Network to monitor
the response of mammals to this changing
landscape. We also aim to explore how
the presence of a newly established
conservation area within a small farming
area will impact on levels of conflict
between predators and livestock.”
The Human–Wildlife Institute has also
been invited to provide biodiversity
data throughout the proposed
fracking (shale gas development)
footprint, as part of a joint venture with
the South African National Biodiversity
Institute, the Department of Science and
Technology and the Council for Scientific and
Industrial Research. “This represents one of the
most ambitious biodiversity assessments ever to
be undertaken in Southern Africa and will link with
the National Research Foundation’s Foundational
Biodiversity Inventory Partnership Programme.”
It will provide important information of how land
use impacts on biodiversity and will complement
current research on the farms of the Karoo.
Coastal conflicts
The institute will not be limited to terrestrial systems and
has established links with shark researcher Dr Alison
Kock. Apex predators on land and in the ocean are
particularly vulnerable to persecution, because they not
only compete with us for food, but occasionally include
us on their menu.
“Our current research on white and seven-gill sharks
extends from the basic biology of both species to the
impacts on people associated with rare attacks,” says
O’Riain. “While we have a good understanding of shark
ecology in False Bay, we are in urgent need of a better
understanding of the economics and human dimension
of shark incidents if we are to keep Cape Town as a
city committed to non-lethal management of the apex
predator on our doorstep.”
By Birgit Ottermann. Image by Dan Mitler, Flickr.
Life below water and life on land 108


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