/ 6 June 2008

Changing perceptions

Merit award — Environmental best practice in not-for-profit organisations: Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group

Farmers need more support with land-use management, in particular in dealing with problem predators, before environmentally responsible “green” meat products can be sold in butcheries and supermarkets.

Research by the Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group, a working group of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, last year showed that consumers and retailers are ready to buy and sell meat that is produced in an environmentally sensitive manner. Landowners, however, first require guidance with wildlife conflict as part of their overall environmental management plans.

“Our greatest challenge is changing perceptions and getting people to think differently about how to approach problem animals in the field,” says Claudia Hodkinson, the group’s coordinator. “Some farmers are still very uninformed about the implications of using traps, including the illegal gin-traps.”

Another outdated method used to destroy predators is hunting them with packs of dogs. According to the group’s manager, Tim Snow, this method is unconstitutional because the hunters “expect the right to enter land at any time in pursuit of predators. They also shift the blame for harbouring predators to others.”

Killing off predators has the potential to destabilise predator populations and farming communities are deeply divided over the issue, Snow adds. “Far too often, the symptom is addressed rather than the cause.

“In other words, the predator is killed rather than addressing the ecological balance, or rather than the farmer implementing systems and methods which will reduce or eliminate the conflict in the long term,” he explains.

Some farmers use pesticides to get rid of “problem animals”, such as jackals, but the poisoning does not stop when the predator is killed. Secondary poisoning often occurs when scavengers such as vultures feed on the carcasses of poisoned animals. Humans who then kill the vultures for muthi are also at risk.

In order to encourage sound environmental management throughout the entire supply chain, the Wildlife Conflict Prevention Group has produced a draft Best Practice Manual for Wildlife Damage Management.

The Greening the Future judges were particularly impressed with this manual, saying it could play a valuable role in promoting “green” labelling linked to eco-friendly agricultural production. They also commended the working group for its ongoing efforts in the field.

The group has built strong relationships with stakeholders in the chemical industry, the farming community and the government over the past 15 years.

“These partnerships have allowed us to be influential in decision-making around poisons and pesticides,” says Hodkinson. “Through the World Health Organisation we are influencing global environmental issues such as the control of malaria vectors in third world countries.”

A major victory was the role the group played in influencing the South African agrochemical registrar to ban Monocrotophos, an extremely toxic organophosphate pesticide that was responsible for high numbers of wildlife poisonings.