Department of Zoology, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, 7700, SOUTH AFRICA.
Large carnivores in southern Africa are threatened by habitat loss and persecution by humans. Game ranches have the potential to provide habitat for free-ranging predators, but carnivore depredation on game-stock can result in human-predator conflict, and the industry’s role in predator conservation has been described as a gap in knowledge.
The density of predators on Botswana commercial farmland was calculated using spoor and camera-trap surveys. Scat-analysis was used to determine the proportion of livestock and game-stock in the cheetah’s diet, the species reported to cause the biggest economic losses on Botswana game ranches. Questionnaires to determine the direct costs, drivers and potential mitigation methods of human-predator conflict, were conducted with a representative from 86.2% of registered game ranches in Botswana, plus an additional 27 livestock farmers. The effectiveness of translocating ‘problem’ predators was analysed using questionnaires with farmers and survival data from 11 GPS-collared ‘problem’ cheetahs.
Cheetahs were more commonly detected on game ranches than livestock farms; detected cheetah density (0.32/ 100 km2) was within the previously assumed range for commercial farmland. Leopard density (0.37/100km2) was 2.6−4.1times lower than previously assumed. Based on scat-analysis cheetahs consumed 1.6−5.9times less game-stock than reported by farmers. Ranchers with only game-stock reported a significantly greater tolerance of predators than ranchers with game-stock and livestock, or farmers with only livestock. The primary drivers of conflict were the presence of cattle and the relative abundance of inexpensive buffer-prey species. Ranchers stated that ‘problem’ predator hunting, trophy hunting, photographic safaris and the translocation of ‘problem’ animals were the best solutions to enable farmers and predators to coexist. However, the survival rate of translocated cheetahs was low (18.2%), and translocation was ineffective at reducing stock losses to predators.
Overall, game ranches in Botswana have a potential to conserve predator populations. This potential is limited by a lack of communication and support between government, NGOs and the game ranching industry, resulting in potential uncertainty of the industry’s future. Initiatives to support game ranching and to encourage the formation of conservancies are likely to maximise the conservation benefits.