Black backed jackals - learning from science and history

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Monday, 9th December 2019

Learning from science and history about black‐backed jackals Canis mesomelas and their conflict with sheep farmers in South Africa.

Nattrass, N., Drouilly, M., & O'riain, M. J.

Mammal Review. (2020) Vol 50 (1), 101-111

The black‐backed jackal Canis mesomelas, henceforth jackal, has re‐emerged as a threat to South African sheep farmers. This sparked contestation between farmers and conservationists over the reasons for their return and the relative merits of lethal and non‐lethal approaches to protecting livestock. Three separate reviews of the scientific literature converged on the same broad conclusion that lethal control of jackals is probably ineffective, but that more scientific research is necessary, especially on farms. We draw on historic evidence and recent research across a range of disciplines to show that jackal diet and behaviour varies regionally and alter in response to changing threats and opportunities. More data will not support generalisable conclusions and have already been eclipsed by broad‐scale changes in the political, economic and ecological landscapes of South Africa. Reduced government support for farmers, rising production costs and falling product prices, together with an increasing frequency of droughts, have conspired to weaken the collective management hand of farmers and, ultimately, contributed to a decline in the sheep farming industry. Many sheep farmers have sold their land to non‐commercial ‘lifestyle' farmers or expanding nature reserves, creating a growing network of safer spaces for jackals to persist, from which their offspring can sink into neighbouring commercial farmland. When these landscape‐level changes are combined with the wide phenotypic plasticity and catholic diet of the jackal, we should be neither surprised at their resurgence nor contented with suggestions that more ecological research is likely to facilitate any sustainable solutions

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