Foxlights as a deterrent to human-carnivore conflict: Do they work?

Alysa Hansen, a graduate student at Antioch University, New England, undertook a study in northern Samburu Kenya, with funding and equipment provided by S.P.E.C.I.E.S., to answer an important question; do visual deterrent systems actually work on medium to large-sized carnivores?

The Foxlight is a well-known animal deterrent, developed in Australia and now used around the world. To study whether or not Foxlights were effective, Hansen and a team from Action for Cheetahs in Kenya set up camera traps, Foxlights and repellent tape (which reflect light, move with the wind and make crinkling noises to disturb wildlife) around 15 homesteads in Meibae Community Conservancy.

The 15 homes were divided into a control with no deterrent, those with Foxlights and those with a combination of Foxlights and repellent tape.

Aerial view of a homestead. In the middle of is a corral or boma that contains livestock at night. Photo by Alysa Hansen/ACK

They hoped to find which combination of deterrents worked best at night, as studies by Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (the NGO with which Alysa worked) had already shown that the large proportion of livestock kills occurred at night.

Human – wildlife conflict is a big problem in northern Kenya, Hansen says, as local people’s lives depend upon their livestock. These people mostly do not want to kill the animals she says, but there are those in communities who will target carnivores, not only in retaliation for livestock killings.

Interviews with fifty-four community members reported a total of 710 conflicts with predators in the past year, during which 664 livestock were killed and 46 were injured. Spotted hyena and cheetahs were deemed to be the main culprits behind the attacks by community members.

Leopard prints near a homestead. Photo by Alysa Hansen/ ACK

Local community members explained during focus groups that drought and disease kill more livestock than predators, and they also believe that a portion of their livestock is meant for the carnivores anyway. It’s when too many animals are taken that a problem arises and locals become less tolerant of the predators.

Hansen says that local wildlife officials and conservationists alike are trying to instill the idea “that the solution to problems with any animal, whether that is an elephant or a carnivore, isn’t to kill the animal.” The area where she conducted her research used to have a resident lion population, but it was chased out years ago. Now whenever a lion enters the area, it is usually tracked and chased out of the area; people are wary.

Local people do have their own conflict mitigation methods. People employ guard dogs which alert people to the presence of a predator. Livestock are also kept enclosed in fences of thorny bush, but over time this begins to break down and gaps can appear, allowing an opportunity for predators to sneak in.

Main entrance to a homestead in Samburu, Kenya. The thorn branch on the right is pulled into the entrance at night and serves as a door. Photo by Alysa Hansen/ACK

Hansen also found that nearly all of respondents to her interviews said they would sell some of their livestock to buy a deterrent system. In a place where people’s lives are tied to their livestock this is no small statement, and makes it essential to understand whether these deterrents work or not.

That’s where technology like the Foxlight comes in, if it reduces the conflict.  By decreasing the frequency of livestock kills, a balance can be struck between the local carnivores and pastoralists.

Bizarrely however, Hansen found that the deterrent actually seemed to attract some predators. “There’s probably two or three homesteads where, it seems to me, there are way more predators visiting,” Hansen said. Amongst the carnivores, spotted hyenas appeared to be the most intrigued, or at least undeterred, by the lights and tape.

Caught in the act. A spotted hyena near a homestead. Photo by Alysa Hansen/ ACK

But other factors can come into play. Hansen explains that local people believe some of the homesteads in the study area sit directly in a wildlife corridor, where a large density of species can be found. According to local people there are some hills in the area where spotted hyenas and leopards have dens, perhaps also accounting for the high density of carnivores.

There is no certainty that the area falls into a wildlife corridor, but if true it impacts the findings of the study dramatically, Hansen says.

As does the typical behavior of communities, she continues. Among the community members, many toss the bones of slaughtered livestock outside of their fences. Rubbish piles full of rotting food scraps and spoiled milk may not sound particularly appetizing, but to a hungry roaming carnivore like a hyena or a jackal, it’s a paradise.

“One thing we told people in this study is please don’t change anything you do. If you slaughter a goat and throw the bones right outside the fence, please don’t change that,” Hansen says, and explains that, due to cultural reasons, it was not something that could be controlled. During the study there was a traditional wedding at one of the homesteads where numerous livestock were slaughtered and afterwards a lot of predators came to visit.

Hansen concludes that whether the Foxlight is an effective deterrent is a bit up in the air.

A leopard captured at a homestead with solar Foxlights and Nite Guard Repellent Tape. The leopard was confirmed to have killed two sheep and two goats that night but strangely did not eat them. Photo by Alysa Hansen /ACK

“I had a wonderful experience conducting research in Kenya. Both Action for Cheetahs in Kenya (ACK) and the local community in Meibae Conservancy were very welcoming and were generally excited about the research that was being done,” she says. “There were challenges of course- things never go exactly how you picture, but that’s all part of the learning process. My project would not have been successful without the expertise of ACK’s local field officers and my research assistant.”

She hopes to do more fieldwork in the future while continuing to learn more about human-wildlife conflict. “Now that we have a decent understanding of livestock depredation and its effects on local communities and carnivore populations, we need to focus on practical solutions/ mitigation and understand that what works in one area, may not necessarily work in another.”

As part of our mission to find solutions to human-carnivore conflict, S.P.E.C.I.E.S. partnered with ACK on this project, and provided financial support for Alysa’s work and also supplied her with  camera-traps.   Now these units are with local wildlife officials to be used for future monitoring and research.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. is a leader in human-carnivore conflict mitigation and partners with many other organizations around the world to help mitigate it. Cameras4Conservation is one of those programs facilitating these unique partnerships.

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The Gran Chaco: Paraguay’s hope for jaguar conservation

The Gran Chaco is perhaps not the first place you think of when you think of jaguars. A harsh and difficult terrain, it was dubbed the “Green Hell” by Paraguayan troops in the 1930s. But the Gran Chaco is an important site of conservation for jaguars in Paraguay.

“The Chaco ecosystem is distributed in three countries (Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina), but when you talk about the conservation of wild population of jaguars in Paraguay our biggest hopes remains in the Chaco,” Diego Gustavo Giménez, Chief Program Officer for S.P.E.C.I.E.S.  Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project, explains in an interview which you can read in full below.

Jaguars are thought to have once roamed the full one million km2 expanse of the Gran Chaco, but the ecoregion now suffers from some of the highest rates of tropical deforestation in the world which has shrunk the species’ habitat considerably.

Across the region jaguars are threatened by the loss of their habitat, but also because of intentional killing. As Giménez explains below there are differing views on jaguars in Paraguay, one of these is driven by fear of the creatures. People feel threatened by jaguars, whether that threat is real or not, the result is often the same; the creatures are killed shortly after being seen.

S.P.E.C.I.E.S. has launched the first and only program committed to the long-term conservation of jaguars across the Gran Chaco. Here Giménez explains some of the underlying issues which the project aims to tackle and shares his personal view of conservation in Paraguay, his home country.

What drew you to study conservation?

It all began during my training at college with general concepts about conservation biology, and the goals that it pursues. I studied at the National University of Asuncion.

My interest became stronger and more specific once I started working in the Environment Secretariat here in Paraguay, there I had the chance to be involved in different conservation projects and the development of management plans of endangered species; this showed me the reality of the numerous conservation problems that currently occurs in my country.

This pushed me to take decisions about the best way for me to help in the conservation of important areas and to join people who works to reach important environmental goals.

What does the jaguar mean to you, and why do we need to conserve it?

The jaguar means perfection to me. You can see in it a creature with strength and intelligence, a creature that is the greatest predator of America, and at the same time, you can only compare all its greatness with its beauty.

We need to conserve jaguars, because through it we are conserving all other species under them in the food chain. We need to conserve them for the balance of the ecosystems where they live.

What are the different views on the jaguar in Paraguay?

Well, there are many actually. My view is one that many people have; the belief that we are the ones who are in the land of the jaguar, in their home, so we have to respect that and try to live in harmony with them because they are the real owners of all this land.

Others have a view of fear. In some places, people live without wanting to have jaguars near them because they feel so insecure about it.

The view that is left is the worst in my opinion. People who don’t love jaguars, who don’t fear jaguars and who don’t respect them. These people see jaguars only as a trophy to hunt, without any care for their population or their endangered status.

What is your vision of the conservation of jaguars in Paraguay?

I believe we have to push in three main directions, and these three directions are among the main aims of our project.

One of them is to work on-site because when you work with jaguars you are also working a lot with the biodiversity that depends on the species. I believe that by focusing on the jaguar we can help other species and biodiversity that shares its habitat.

But we can’t just work on-site, we also to need to educate. We can’t just do this at the local level or around the areas where we work in the field, we also have to educate people in cities, like the capital of Asuncion. The people who live there might then become interested in the environment and the conservation of biodiversity, but this interest has to be built.

I believe this is a direction which we have to focus on; to make people know of the importance of biodiversity in general, but specifically of jaguars because they are so important to ecosystems.

Another direction is working with students who are in environmental careers, because here in Paraguay it’s difficult to gain experience while studying. There aren’t so many opportunities for gaining experience in the field. So we want to involve these students in our work in jaguar conservation.

I know that with this project we can help the University by giving students the chance to work with us in the field and help them to build their knowledge, to help them understand what they can give to the biodiversity of Paraguay.

You are saying that the jaguar is intricately linked to its habitat, the Chaco. Why do you believe the Chaco needs to be conserved?

The Chaco is a very particular environment, when you say Chaco you’re not talking about just one kind of area.

For instance, you have a particular kind of biodiversity. If you are in the northern Chaco and when you go down to the south, you see the different environments, flora and fauna that the Chaco has. Each has its own unique species.

There is also a lot of information that we still don’t know, because it’s not that easy to study the Chaco. The only way to conserve the Chaco and it’s biodiversity is knowing what is in it, their conservation status, health of their population, etc.

I believe the Chaco is a very good place for conservation because we can’t talk about conserving wild population of jaguars without making some effort to conserve the Chaco, both things go hand in hand.

The Chaco ecosystem is distributed in three countries, Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, but when you talk about the conservation of wild populations of jaguars in Paraguay our biggest hope remains in the Chaco. Similarly, there are projects in the Atlantic Forest ecosystem and ex situ conservation research currently developing in our country.

Find out more about S.P.E.C.I.E.S. Chaco Jaguar Conservation Project here.

Poached and trafficked: Saving Cameroon’s African golden cats and pangolins

Cameroon’s Dja faunal reserve is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is home to a spectacular array of species, over 100 species of mammals among them. But overhunting, lack of adequate protection and conservation awareness place this important biodiversity hotspot in danger. S.P.E.C.I.E.S., is launching a project to reduce the poaching and trade of the African golden cat and three pangolin species, two of the species most at risk in the Dja reserve.

The African golden cat (Caracal aurata) is subject to superstition by tribal peoples in southern Cameroon. Pygmy tribes carry golden cat tails with them on hunts as a lucky token and their skin is used in circumcision rituals. Hunting for the golden cat is banned across 12 of its range countries, with Cameroon being an exception.

Pangolins have recently come to be the unfortunate face of the illegal wildlife trade. They are the most trafficked animals in the world and around one million are thought to have been poached over the past decade across their range. With Asian pangolin species rapidly declining, those in Africa are targeted more and more. Pangolins are also hunted for local and regional markets as bushmeat and for use in traditional medicine practices.

There are three pangolin species in Central Africa; the white-bellied tree pangolin (Manis tricuspis), black-bellied tree pangolin (Manis tetradactyla) and the giant ground pangolin (Manis gigantean). All species are considered vulnerable to extinction and their distribution and population sizes are unknown.

In addition to these already severe threats, both African golden cats and pangolins face pressure from loss and fragmentation of their natural habitat due to expanding agriculture and logging.

golden-cats

African golden cats are elusive in the wild and most images of them are taken by camera-traps.

“In Cameroon, conservation is generally not viewed as a good thing by many people,” Eric Nana, S.P.E.C.I.E.S. Cameroon project coordinator, explains. People who live and depend upon the forest, either for food or income, often see little or no value in conservation. There are also ingrained perceptions that the forests are abundant with life, and that animals will always be plentiful. “They say their forefathers hunted, their fathers hunted and the game is still there. Therefore they see no need to stop hunting and see any attempt to stop them from hunting as a way of keeping them in poverty.”

Changing local perceptions is a key part of the project, according to Nana. He has gained over ten years of experience working with different NGOs and has worked closely with local communities to tackle issues such as poaching.  It was the realisation that ecosystems play an essential role to sustaining human life that drove Nana to take up conservation. This interconnectedness is often overlooked in economic and social development, he says, which causes severe problems like environmental degradation and unsustainable and illegal hunting. “Ecosystem service values are often not considered when the costs and benefits of different development options are weighed up.”

Pangolins, also known as ‘scaly anteaters’, have long, sticky tongues that allow them to pluck ants and termites from hard to reach places. They are covered in tough scales and curl up into a protective ball when threatened, unfortunately this also means they are easy to poach.

The project therefore aims to provide information on African golden cat and pangolin distributions and population sizes, but also to work closely with local communities and authorities to ensure better protection. Nana says that by developing alternative sources of income among local communities, and raising awareness of the harm of overhunting, the species can be better protected.

In five communities around the Dja reserve, training on cane rat farming, snail farming and poultry farming will be provided. These all provide important sources of protein from animals that are already abundant in the area.

pangolin_trade

African pangolin species are poached from the wild for bushmeat and to feed Asian markets. Large seizures, such as this one where thousands of dead pangolins were found, are becoming commonplace.

 

 

In addition, the project will build upon the capacities of local forest guards by using cutting-edge and integrative technologies such as SMART, CyberTracker, QGIS, and GPS marking and tracking, photo GPS marking, and radio-communication devices, to enhance protection of southern Cameroon’s forests.

“Through this project, we expect to establish the first regional baseline data of the threats, distribution and conservation status of the target species for Cameroon,” Nana explains. By connecting with and building bridges between local communities, authorities and other conservation NGOs, a bottom-up approach to conservation will be taken.

Taking these elements together (awareness raising, income-generating activities, enforcement capacity-building and understanding the bushmeat trade), will ensure that the harms of overhunting are made clear to local residents, while offering alternatives to lessen a dependency on bushmeat hunting.

Transcending the Big Bad Wolf

Post by Anthony Giordano, S.P.E.C.I.E.S founder and director.

In the history of western civilization, no animal has been as systematically vilified as the wolf. Neither spider nor snake, bat nor rat, nor shark of any kind, can make this claim. For many, the wolf is still the thing that kept us close to the campfire, its restless shadow and eager panting holding sleep at bay, its howl the fingers of winter’s embrace. For them, it is why they remind their children to stay close.

Hate of the wolf is part of our politics. More than 60 times in the past few years, Conservatives and Republicans in Congress have sought to undermine the Endangered Species Act – mostly to get at the wolf. These representatives furtively introduce amendments to proposed legislation that would delist wolves, turning “management authority” over to the states and putting them back in the crosshairs. This includes shoot-on-site laws where they are still in recovery. Beholden to rural agricultural lobbyists with agendas contrary to most American’s values, they use mischaracterization and fear to drive the ranks of their propaganda machine, infecting government agencies with it.

Take Oregon for example. Recently it very publicly failed the 83 wolves in 9 packs that reside within its borders. That’s all the wolves Oregon has at the moment, mind you, having returned in 1999 after a 60 year absence. Given how the state’s wildlife commission has behaved however, you wouldn’t know this. Rather, you’d believe wolves had never gone, instead staying behind red in tooth and claw to wage war on the commercial livestock industry. In April, despite an open hearing where teachers, veterans, and the department’s own former staff testified 33 – 5 in favor of wolf protection, the commission unanimously instructed its staff to provide recommendations for delisting . With state wolf recovery then hanging in the balance, the propaganda machine went to work, decrying the statewide havoc wolves would wreak.

This past summer, as the state rolled out their “management plan” in what can at best be considered a shameless disregard for science, two adult wolves raising 5-month old pups were found dead under suspicious circumstances within 50 feet of each other. One was the semi-famous OR-21, who struck out on her own in 2014. And in the climax, last month after more than 90% of 22,000 solicited public comments were in support of maintaining the wolf’s protected status, and letters from countless scientists underscoring the plan’s many flaws, the state stubbornly betrayed logic and its public, voting to delist. Shame on Oregon. They presented only an illusion of fairness, an illusion that sound science, expert opinion, and the public’s values might be relevant to policy decisions.

Why should this matter to Californians? In 2011, a single wolf from Oregon, the famous OR-7, arrived in California. In anticipation of the wolf’s more permanent establishment here, California did something prescient, a sign maybe things were changing: it offered the wolf protection before it was established. Earlier this year, and much earlier than many anticipated, the echo of the Shasta Pack’s arrival in Siskiyou County rang with the wolf’s full potential to recolonize the Sierra Nevadas. But it is Oregon that likely controls the fate of wolf recolonization to the Golden State in the near future. Moreover, there is speculation that California maybe hasn’t quite gone far enough. A new state conservation plan would consider removing protections after only nine packs become resident, potentially as few as 50-60 individuals. And if California were to do this, then shame on it as well.

There is a silver lining looming on the horizon. There are 83 wolves in Oregon now, six more than when it first proposed to delist. Today, wolves occupy more of their historic range (approximately 10%) in the continental U.S. than at any time since WW II. As new generations of Americans rise to positions of influence and power, they will likely do so with less lupine vitriol, embracing a philosophy of coexistence with this remarkable predator, and removing the hate from decision-making. As they do, I expect the wolf to continue its return, and we may finally transcend this foolish notion of the big bad wolf.

This was originally published as a guest post on endangered.org.