Baboons help themselves to lunch from an Alldays farmer’s crop. The team at the Predator and Primate Project operating from their site at the Alldays Wildlife Communities and Research Centre are trying to find ways for humans and primates to live with each other, without fear of death for one or crop theft for the other. Photo supplied.
Date: 30 November 2018 By: Jo Robinson
Livestock farmers in this area are not usually fond of the leopards that used to be very prevalent here. Most farmers, but especially crop farmers, further complain about the difficulties of keeping primates such as baboons and monkeys from decimating their growing produce. These animals are commonly viewed as pests, depending on what farmers are trying to produce that constitutes their food.
The Alldays Wildlife and Communities Research Centre (AWCRC) was established on the Campfornis game farm 10km outside the town of Alldays in 2017. This is a new site for ongoing research by the Primate and Predator Project (PPP), originally started in 2011 by Professor Russel Hill, from Durham University in the United Kingdom, at Lajuma in the Soutpansberg.
Jeanette Fouché, the farm’s trials assistant for the research centre, explained to the Zoutpansberger that the PPP has three specific aims. They share one main purpose, which is, she said, “to explore the ecology of the diurnal primates, predators and the conflict between these animals and the local communities”.
Camera traps triggered by movement established that this region used to be home to healthy populations of many predators, with leopard densities among the highest ever recorded on private land in 2008. In subsequent years, the project has recorded a decline in the leopard population. They say that, in addition to being subject to high levels of hunting, leopards are also persecuted by humans because of negative perceptions of large carnivores as predators of livestock, even though PPP analysis shows that livestock rarely feature in the diets of leopards.
What the project aims to do with their research is to find ways to change the way humans perceive these animals by increasing human understanding of their ecology and broadening their analyses of carnivore diets. They state that, even though leopards are viewed with such intolerance, baboons are the ones labelled as the major pest species by landowners and farmers. Their research focuses on the three diurnal primate species in South Africa, namely chacma baboons, vervet monkeys and samango monkeys. These species are all important leopard prey. The purpose of this project is to find out how farmers and primates can co-exist.
The PPP’s focus on their third goal at the Alldays centre is to evaluate the nature and extent of human-wildlife conflict in general. They are working towards understanding the problems of wildlife damage to crops and developing ways to mitigate these losses. Another important aim for them is to interact with schools and crop farmers in the area to try and encourage the sharing of land and resources with “problem” wildlife. The group also try and help local communities with tasks such as snare sweeps, litter removal and environmental education.
“Here at Alldays,” Fouché said, “we are currently trying to find suitable methods that can act as deterrents to keep primates such as monkeys and baboons out of local crop fields as part of conflict-mitigation strategies. This is coordinated by Dr Leah Findlay, our research coordinator.” The PPP is also currently in the process of developing a research project aimed at the aspects of the ecology of leopards in the area. This area is being developed now and coordinated by Jamie McKaughan, the project’s leopard-research leader. She said that, based on this leopard study, they hoped to estimate the density of leopards in this particular area of Limpopo and to determine the extent of conflict between farmers and large predators in the Alldays area.
“When we are not conducting our fieldwork and developing research and project protocols, we also enjoy assisting the local communities on various levels,” said Fouché. Once a week the AWCRC team and voluntary research assistants visit the local Briershof Primary School to conduct environmental-education lessons with the school pupils. “Here we discuss and demonstrate various topics, ranging from air and water pollution to wildlife and environmental wellbeing and conservation.
While local farmers may be doubtful about the effectiveness of non-harming deterrents to keep pesky big cats from their sheep and monkeys from their melons, the team at Alldays plan on continuing to learn more about these creatures. At the same time, they want to help educate young minds about conservation and physically help the community and its wildlife as much as they can, even though funds are almost always stretched a little too far. “The PPP and the AWCRC are non-profit organizations, with the only funding we receive being from the Earthwatch Institute. We have had many people question our efforts, but we are determined not to give up, and if we can make a difference, we will try our best to achieve this!” said Fouché.
For more information about the Predator and Primate Project, log on to https://alldayswcrc.org or find out what they are doing on their Facebook page, Alldays Wildlife and Communities Research Centre.
Jo joined the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror in 2018 pursuing a career in journalism after many years of writing fiction and non-fiction for other sectors.
Jeanette Fouché, trials assistant at the Alldays Wildlife Communities and Research Centre, told the Zoutpansberger about their local activities in addition to the Predator and Primate Project. “When possible, we also assist with 'Snare sweeps' on various private properties, whereby we cover as much ground as time and logistics allow, on foot, in order to find and remove illegal snares placed by trespassing meat poachers - an issue we suspect will increase over the Christmas season. During October, the AWCRC team removed approximately 40 snares from one participating property.” Photo supplied.