Dogs and cats: helping farmers and cheetahs coexist in Botswana

Dogs and cats: helping farmers and cheetahs coexist in Botswana

When people think of sub-Saharan Africa, they are often imagining the landscape of Botswana, although they may be unaware of it. Images of the Kalahari populate the spreads of nature magazines; the mysterious gazes of lions, elephants, and buffalo calling readers to adventure. Admiring photographs such as these in my youth brought me to my current work, and last month I was fortunate enough to have a dream realised and visit the Kalahari myself.

CSF, thanks to funding from the Handsel Foundation, is working along with Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) to conduct a cost benefit analysis (CBA) of alternative predator control methods used by small stock farmers in the Kalahari agro-ecosystem.

Conflict with farmers is yet another factor contributing to the loss of larger predators from the landscape, and it is particularly worrisome for the cheetah. Listed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List, cheetah numbers have plummeted by 90% in the last century. Botswana has one of the last free-ranging cheetah populations in the world and, as such, is crucial for the survival of the species. Unable to compete with larger predators within conservation reserves, cheetahs are pushed into farmlands, making them particularly susceptible. Predator control, i.e. the killing of livestock predators though methods such as poisoning and snaring, is for the most part illegal in Botswana. However, on-going agricultural development continues to bring the cheetah into closer contact with humans and farm animals.

CCB works closely with farmers to secure their livelihoods, and enabling them to share the land with cheetahs and other predators. One specific intervention is CCB’s work promoting livestock-guarding dogs and better farm management to reduce livestock losses and conflict. Dogs act as early warning systems as well as generally deterring kills. Last year, after attending CSF’s economic training workshop in Uganda (supported by the USAID BUILD program and the Handsel Foundation), CCB program manager Douglas Thamage decided to use his new economic training to show small-scale farmers the economic benefits associated with non-lethal intervention against cheetahs.

Upon arrival, I met with Douglas and CCB Managing Director Rebecca Klein. Keen to improve my understanding of the issues, they organised field visits to their two main intervention sites. The trip provided me with many insights and has cemented CSF’s interest in assisting CCB's effort to explain the costs and benefits of their intervention strategies to small farmers in the region. This is a vital task in Botswana, where humans are pushing large carnivores, cheetahs in particular, toward extinction. Convincing farmers of the benefits of cheetah conservation will be no easy feat, but together CSF and CCB hope to show that, conservation aside, a case can be made for non-lethal predator control methods.