A week or so ago, we at African Safari Consultants (ASC) were fortunate enough to chat with Dr Bool Smuts of the Landmark Foundation – a South African NGO dedicated to building South Africa’s conservation economy so that it’s natural landscapes can be more effectively conserved. The paragraphs that follow are from notes made during his presentation.
We were advised right at the beginning of Dr Smuts presentation that his efforts are not always appreciated by farmers or local politicians, as he is tackling something with far reaching implications. We assured him that we too have the environment’s best interests at heart, and proceeded to listen attentively to what he had to say.
Dr Smuts formed the Landmark Foundation in 2004 to tackle the human-wildlife conflict, representing the best interests of those that cannot speak for themselves (the animals) and is one of only a few organisations that use a holistic approach to tackle the current problems facing South African conservation, and as such are active in the fields of:
- Research, and
The leopard became central to the Landmark Foundation owing to its iconic status in South Africa. As the last remaining top predator naturally occurring in South African mountain ranges, the leopard’s survival is key in maintaining the natural balance of the ecosystem. With the leopard population having seen rapid decline in recent years – owing to a combination of factors including trophy hunting, the use of gin traps and other (often cruel) elimination methods by farmers, and a decrease in habitat – the work of Dr Smuts and his team is of the utmost importance.
Since beginning their intensive leopard research and rehabilitation project in 2006, Dr Smuts and his team have seen the Western Cape’s leopard population dwindle to 300. The local farming community see leopards as a threat to their livestock, and ruthlessly eliminate them by means of gin traps (which only capture the intended target 8% of the time, meaning a whopping 92% of gin trap victims are honey badgers, porcupines, jackals, birds, reptiles etc.), night hunting, and rigging dens with barbwire and/or poison.
The animals suffer a painful death in what is tantamount to torture, so the threat that these activities represent to all local wildlife is plain to see. It was incredibly disheartening to learn that these practices are so rife, and that even big name grocery stores are happy to turn a blind eye.
What makes the above all the more bitter a pill to swallow is the fact that the Landmark Foundation’s research proves that actively pursuing the elimination of the species is in fact both more costly than the alternative, and less effective (case studies showed livestock losses remained constant or, in some cases, actually rose). So what is the alternative? Dr Smuts and his team are strong advocates for the return of the almost forgotten skill of shepherding – a vocation as old as any.
By establishing shepherding academies, the Landmark Foundation aim to mimic the success of a recent Zimbabwean model whereby Allan Savory – a significant landowner and farmer – removed the fences around his land to maximize grazing area, and simultaneously re-introduced shepherds to tend to his flock. The resultant declines in livestock loss were remarkable. Mr. Savory was saving money on expensive culling techniques, had taught valuable skills to his employees, and was losing significantly less livestock. Wins all round!
In addition to his campaigning for ‘Fair Game’ products and the abolition of the cruel practices described above, Dr Smuts also focuses on educating the youth as to the importance of sustainable practices. By bringing to light ‘conflict situations’ that the public may not be aware of, he and his team seek to reintroduce programs for better land use practices. The work that he and his team are doing is invaluable, and we commend them on their efforts in the face of adversity.
If you would like to find out more about the Landmark Foundation and how you can help conserve South Africa’s precious wildlife heritage, please visit www.landmarkfoundation.org.za. The site is filled with information on how to help, contact details, and some disturbing imagery/videos that push home the point of just how serious this is.
We at ASC salute the Landmark Foundation and look forward to working with them in future.