Relationships between livestock husbandry and depredation rates by large carnivores in Laikipia district, Kenya
Ogada, Mordecai Owidi
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Wildlife conservation in Africa is a dynamic pursuit, constantly requiring new approaches as the challenges facing it change over time. Kenya's wildlife is a case in point where the principal challenge to wildlife populations in the 1970's 1980’s was considered to be poaching. This was largely countered by the fencing and security enforcement approach. Poaching of large mammals has since been drastically reduced in the 1980's and almost eradicated by the early 1990's although it still exists in a few isolated areas. Consequently, its significance as a threat to wildlife population has diminished considerably. However, trends in wildlife populations in Kenya show a 50percent decline over the last 20 years alone (Norton-Griffiths, 1999) suggesting other severe challenges. Rapid rise in Kenya's human population over the last two decades. This has led to a demand for arable land, and habitation, causing ever-closer interaction between humans and wildlife. Livestock depredation is an important part of this conflict. This study investigated how livestock husbandry practices and boma (Stockade) designs influenced the levels of livestock depredation by wild predators on private ranches and communal lands in Laikipia district, Kenya. The aim was to develop alternative approaches to mitigating livestock losses other than indiscriminate culling of wild predators. Despite the presence of only few designated conservation areas, Laikipia District harbours a large and relatively stables wildlife population, making it an area of conservation importance. Since the ecology of predators in the area is well documented, the study integrates ecological knowledge with range management applications. The study was carried out on nine privately owned livestock ranches and one communal grazing area. A survey was conducted of all the different stockade designs (construction, dimensions and material) in the study area as well as the management systems (herd sizes, use of dogs and numbers of personnel). Loss rates were then analyzed for each of the above factors, with the aim of identifying the ideal. This study has shown that various aspects of stockade ('boma') design and livestock husbandry practices used in the study area have a significant effect on the numbers lost to wild predators. Most important among these are wall height (r2=0.357, p<0.05, n=14) and hessian cloth screens in shoat (i.e. sheep and goat or smallstock) bomas (t=4.961, p<0.05, n=2). The use of herding dogs had a significant effect on field kills (t=-8.223, p<0.05, n=2) and herdsman: shoat ratio was found to be an important factor in the reduction of field kills (r2=0.844, p<0.05, n=8). The importance of boma wall height in shoat depredation was because lions and leopards mostly took out shoats over boma walls. This involved entry into the boma, hence the importance of hessian cloth screens. The use of dogs was important in the reduction of field kills because this was found to be primarily a problem of vigilance. Unarmed herdsmen in the field easily drove off wild predators. The results showed that livestock losses can be significantly reduced by implementing the appropriate boma designs and management methods. This study has found that livestock depredation is not a random occurrence. Different predator species use different methods depending on their capabilities, behaviour and the type of stock being taken. Remedial measures in stock management and housing should therefore be implemented with reference to the above factors. This will reduce the amount of livestock lost to wild predators, and reduce the number of predators killed for livestock depredation. The reduction of wild predator impact on livestock production systems will allow for the maintenance of viable reservoir populations of wild predators outside protected areas, thus contributing to conservation.