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A socio-ecological approach towards understanding conflict between leopards (Panthera pardus) and humans in South Africa : implications for leopard conservation and farming livelihoods

The thesis investigates the socio-ecological factors driving human-leopard conflict due to livestock and game depredation in the Blouberg Mountain Range, South Africa. Local people’s perceptions of conservation are shaped by historical and contemporary relationships with protected areas and particularly, by conflicts of land and natural resource use. Legacies of disempowerment, marginalisation and stigmatisation manifest through people’s conservation discourses, social conflict and resistance towards protected area establishment, a process defined as traumatic nature. Traumatic nature elevates distrust of local people towards wildlife authorities and decreases support for wildlife conservation, aggravating human-leopard conflicts. Leopard predation on livestock and game is most strongly influenced by distance to village and distance to water, respectively, in addition to seasonal grazing patterns, the calving season and poor livestock husbandry practices. Livestock depredation represents significant economic costs for subsistence communal farmers’, which is exacerbated by the erosion of traditional cattle sharing systems and a lack of alternative livelihood strategies. Livestock depredation results in the loss of functional and material benefits, social capital, a spiritual resource, diminished wellbeing and perceived cultural decay. Camera trap results showed a lower leopard density of 0.7 leopards per 100km2 on commercial farms compared to the Blouberg Nature Reserve of 5.4 leopards per 100km2. Commercial farms may function as ecological traps because they represent areas with disproportionate leopard mortality that otherwise provide a high abundance of prey species for leopards. A male-biased sex ratio and a high number of sub-adult male leopards indicate high leopard mortality rates in the population. Camera trap results show low occupancy rates on communal land that may reflect a low large prey biomass, potentially caused by overhunting and habitat conversion. Farming communities ascribe a wide range of environmental values to the leopard that provide barriers and support for leopard conservation. Environmental institutions need to improve responses to reports of human-leopard conflicts and build trust and legitimacy in the eyes of local people by developing stronger working relationships with farming communities. The decentralisation of authority to local government actors to manage human-leopard conflicts and the devolution of responsibility to farmers to improve livestock husbandry practices is necessary to reduce depredation incidents. Incentive and education schemes are important for reducing lethal control measures and to improve tolerance of depredation incidents and leopard conservation.
Date January 2014
CreatorsConstant, Natasha Louise
PublisherDurham University
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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