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340 jackals killed as experiment

Posted by: Saving Water SA (Cape Town, South Africa) – partnered with Water Rhapsody conservation systems – 06 November 2010

Parks authorities have shot and killed around 340 jackals in a controversial experiment to boost declining antelope numbers in two national parks.

Now conservationists have accused authorities of questionable scientific and ethical motives and of trying to mask an unprecedented cull as an experiment.

In May and September this year, SANParks authorities killed 132 jackal in the Karoo National Park and a further 73 in the Darlington section of Addo Elephant National Park and 139 from the Kuzuko section of the park, as part of a jackal research project.

In a brief research paper released this week, SANParks researchers explained that in certain sections of the parks, which have been earmarked for large predator establishment, they noted significant sustained declines in the populations of certain ungulate species, notably springbok.

A number of studies demonstrated that in fenced ecosystems, where larger predators were absent, jackals could become “very significant predators” of the lambs of smaller to medium-sized antelope.

“Thus there was reason to believe that high jackal predation as a result of the predator trap was severely inhibiting antelope population recoveries in these two parks,” and its decision was made to reduce the predation pressure on the antelope by culling the jackals, abundant in the two parks.

But Bool Smuts, the director of the Landmark Foundation, which educates farmers about non-lethal predator controls, and is involved in jackal research, termed it highly unusual for parks authorities to embark on massive lethal sampling of an indigenous predator species in a national park.

“It’s inconceivable that this could have been allowed… that our national parks authority institutes such an action without a public participation process, then responds in an arrogant way, is not acceptable.

“It’s a cull they’re now trying to paint as an experiment. They seem to think jackals are the reason for springbok numbers not improving, and to some extent that may be true. But I don’t see any evaluation having been done in these parks, based on what’s actually affecting springbok numbers.

“As well as predation, have they accounted for the worst drought in 130 years? That may be why springbok numbers are not recovering. Or the role of certain management actions like fewer watering points in some reserves, and dropping or erecting fences. There are many possible reasons.”

He termed the move “an extremely cavalier response to biodiversity management”.

Chris Mercer, of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting, slammed the “secrecy”. “If the explanation was that simple, why didn’t they say so from the beginning? Instead, they beat around the bush … The public is entitled to know why they’re killing jackals.

“You could understand if it was 30 or 40 – but this large number? That’s not culling. That’s extermination.” Mercer said jackal were still widely regarded as vermin.

SANParks spokeswoman Wanda Mkulthulwa said: “What does the drought and changing water infrastructure have to do with research? Why was there a need for public participation? Where is this requirement contained? Certainly not in the Biodiversity or Protected Areas Acts, which is where we derive our mandate. If there is new legislation maybe you can point us to this?”

The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University would study the stomach contents of jackal to help ascertain their role in constrained ecosystems, she said.

SANParks researchers said jackal removal had ceased in both parks. The focus was now on monitoring jackal and antelope population densities.

By: Sheree Bega
Source: IOL

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