Developing a management information system for coordinated predation management in South Africa
Predation on livestock and wildlife is the most prominent facet of human-wildlife conflict worldwide. Yet, it is the least understood, in part due to the disparity in methods used to collect data and report results relating to predation and predation management. Predation management is a highly controversial issue, and the lack of scientific information is a major concern and impediment for initiatives to devise effective and acceptable management strategies. The purpose of this study was twofold: (a) to conduct a detailed farm-level investigation into predation vs predation management in areas where high levels of predation had previously been reported, and (b) to develop a tool to provide livestock farmers and wildlife ranchers with a means of reporting predation and practices employed to curb the impact of predation. Building on the groundwork laid by previous studies in South Africa, this study aimed to provide a basis for improving our understanding of the dynamics of human-predator conflict on farm level as well as on a larger scale in an attempt to address some of the current research gaps. This study explored a succession of methods to collect information on predation and predation management on farm-level and develop a tool to collect such data. Initially, questionnaires were used to collect data, concurrent with the process of developing a digital data collection tool. The data collected by means of the questionnaires were used to test this tool (two mobile device applications). The challenges presented during the study and those associated with other methods of data collection played a central role in the data collection methodology developed in the study. At the onset of the study, questionnaires were used to collect information on predation experienced, predator control methods practised, as well as other factors known to influence predation, such as demographic information, physical and managerial characteristics of a farm, and husbandry practices. Though showing potential to provide invaluable information, the questionnaire methodology used in the early phases of this study highlighted fundamental issues regarding the use of conventional data collection methods and the lack of coordinated predation management systems that thwarted the objectives initially set for this study. Consequently, the focus also shifted toward developing a Management Information System (MIS) through which predation management data may be used to develop sound mitigation strategies and, ultimately, inform Best Management Practices. This thesis discusses the development and value of digital data collection methods, specifically mobile device applications, for use in predation management. It also highlights the importance of coordinated action and institutional memory to ensure a structured and focused approach to inform improved predation management strategies in South Africa. To achieve this goal, a system of coordinated predation management must have an MIS at its core. Practical methodologies were developed to manage predation, focusing on more effective technology and procedures to collate relevant information for incorporation into a national database as part of an MIS. Data collected with such methodology presents the opportunity to assist authorities, landowners and other role players with a notable range of coordinated predation management options. The effective and sustainable management of mesopredators poses a range of complicated and varying challenges for responsible authorities and landowners, in South Africa but also worldwide. The outcome of this study is an important and valuable contribution to the knowledge base and insights available to manage damage-causing predators more sustainably. It laid a firm foundation for a comprehensive MIS to inform predation management in South Africa.