Global Populations and Agriculture Threaten Biodiversity.
As the world rallies to combat the global risk of climate change and population growth, urgent action to implement a balance to conserve natural biodiversity and ensure food security for a sustainable future for both wildlife and human society is crucial. Agriculture, as a contributing threat to eco systems, requires an urgent re-evaluation to mitigate future habitat destruction and address human wildlife conflict.In South Africa, where 81% ⁽¹⁾of the land is used for agriculture, approximately 83% of agricultural land is used for livestock grazing. Of this a large proportion is located in arid regions of the country, which in recent years have become prone to protracted droughts.
In the Karoo a combination of long duration grazing management and drought has resulted in overgrazing in vast areas with subsequent stock losses. In addition to these challenges, the Karoo is also a region where predator conflict is reported frequently and is generally addressed through lethal management incorporating gin traps and hunting at high economical cost to farmers and dire consequences to predator populations and overall biodiversity.
Shepherding back Biodiversity:
Wanting to implement an alternative livestock husbandry model that addresses overgrazing and excludes lethal predator control, Fair Game drew on more than a decade of Leopard research and small predator livestock conflict studies. In the Greater Karoo, Fair Game has set out to demonstrate that rearing livestock in the presence of predators is not only possible, but actually more productive when the focus of farming is on correct grazing regimes and monitoring biodiversity.
Implementing a management program of ‘Shepherding For Biodiversity’, Fair Game addresses fundemental principles to produce ethically reared, wildlife friendly, rangeland lamb and beef while simultaneously restoring vegetation and fostering biodiversity.
Shepherding Removes Human Predator Conflict in the Karoo.
Fair Game has trained shepherds and employed them full time to manage their sheep flock and cattle herd, a husbandry tool that has been able to mitigate stock losses through predation by small predators. In the Greater Karoo, free roaming large predators like Lion and Cape Leopard are non-existent with the majority of reported predation attributed to Black Backed Jackal and Caracal.
In the presence of shepherds and kraaling at night for 24 months, despite a severe regional drought, the livestock have increased from 1000 ewes to 2000 sheep and from 250 to 360 head of cattle. Within this same period there have been no recorded stock losses attributed to predators, effectively eliminating human wildlife predator conflict.
A biodiversity consequence of the non-lethal husbandry using shepherds has been that free roaming predators have established territories on the Fair Game farms and hunt their natural prey species without targeting livestock.An additional management and flock health benefit of shepherding is the daily audit and monitoring of the livestock which permits early diagnosis of injury and disease that can be attended to before becoming life threatening or endemic resulting in an increase in overall livestock health.
Real Time Grazing Management enhances Biodiversity in The Karoo.
Transitioning from baseload carrying capacity stocking rates to veld condition evaluation, shepherding allows the incorporation of high density, short duration grazing (HDSDG). At night the livestock are kraaled for protection against predators and then released into the veld in the morning. Remaining with the livestock while they are grazing, shepherds constantly evaluate the condition of the veld and manage the density and duration of grazing by the livestock to prevent overgrazing.The real time veld evaluation during high density grazing mitigates both plant species selection and overgrazing. On the Fair Game farms the benefits of the shepherding program have been twofold. Firstly, the prevention of veld degradation and secondly drought resistance which has allowed Fair Game not only to increase their livestock numbers during the drought, but they also were able to sell lambs and cattle to the meat industry.The impact on biodiversity on the Fair Game farms have been difficult to study during the two year drought period, but sightings from three years of trap camera studies suggest that mammal populations have responded well to the shepherding program.Herbivores in particular have benefited from the maintenance of veld condition from the grazing program while small predators are frequently captured on camera.
Kraaling and Grazing enriches the Veld.
At night the livestock are kept in temporary kraal sites. These kraal sites are established on highly degraded areas and are used for one week. The high density of livestock in the kraals has a dual function of both breaking up the surface crust and of fertilizing the site. Studies have demonstrated that water permeability and nitrogen levels of the kraal sites increases as a result of the hoof action and dunging during the 7 days. The nitrogen levels persist for up to 9 months after the kraal has been moved.Regeneration of the kraal sites is initially dominated by annual grasses following rain and have higher nitrogen levels than similar species outside the Kraal area. Perennial shrubs in the Kraal take longer to recover and all contain higher levels of nitrogen.