54. Truth or Consequences (04/2012)

by brettthevet

Places often bring to mind vivid associations: New York proclaims the Statue of Liberty, London chimes Big Ben, Paris has the chic Eifel Tower, Sydney sings its Opera House, Cairo’s pyramids prevail, Milan favours fashion, Buenos Aires oozes tango, Fukushima our fulminating destiny, Guantanamo Bay’s torment, Auschwitz – gas chambers shame, and Prince Albert gets lumped with a gin trap factory.

Farmers in the Karoo and other parts of South Africa claim they are losing more livestock than ever before (up to 90% of lambs) to predators, mainly jackals, but also to lynx, leopard, foxes, feral dogs, humans and other primates. The increase has been attributed to a rise in the number of game and hobby farms (safe havens for jackals), and the current trend of bigger farms supporting more sheep under less supervision. Chronic environmental degradation due to overgrazing means that for farm sizes to be viable they have had to expand over the past two decades from an average of 2000ha to 15 000 ha – the situation is worsening.

An estimated 5000 animals are killed and maimed daily by predators: some die quickly while others endure prolonged suffering. These numbers are NOT verified by any independent organization, which is unfortunate as farmers have a vested interest in inflating the numbers.

But the suffering of animals is not due to predators alone: lambs are also routinely mutilated by farmers when they cut off their tails and testicles without anaesthetic, or induce gangrene by using elastrators. Sheep are dispatched en masse for journeys to abattoirs where they are slaughtered to provide meat and wool merely to satisfy unnecessary human desires.

Experts in lethal predator management maintain that effective flock protection involves predator elimination using a combination of methods that include non-selective, inhumane gin traps and illegal poisoned bait, destroying pups from lairs, and hunting (preferred). The agony experienced by these animals while they die is deemed necessary because of the alleged losses and suffering inflicted on stock. The efficacy of these methods and the number of non-target fatalities (up to 90% of all animals caught in traps) is apparently directly related to the level of expertise of the trapper, which is highly variable.

Experts in non-lethal predator control maintain that effective flock protection involves prevention of predator attacks by applying a combination of methods that include the use of donkeys, alpacas, ostriches, and ultrasound deterrents, livestock guardian dogs, kraaling at night, keeping ewes with lambs close to home, and shepherding. The efficacy of these methods is directly related to the level of expertise of the manager, which is highly variable.

The rate of jackal population growth is directly related to food availability, and when threatened, they start to multiply faster by breeding at a younger age and producing larger litters. Evidently, older jackals are responsible for most sheep deaths. They have learnt to avoid traps and poison, while younger jackals that aren’t the main culprits succumb. Among jackal there are some individuals that mainly hunt while others feed on carrion. Poisoned baits therefore select for preservation of the hunters. Jackals mate for life, and form strong family bonds. Animal communicators convey that jackals are feeling persecuted and marginalized, saddened by human prejudice and aggression towards them. Their natural prey has diminished on agricultural land. They cannot fulfill their God-given right to raise even one generation of young unhindered.

Recognised conservation groups (such as EWT and Cape Nature) promote a systems approach to the predator problem that, they claim, is holistic and sustainable in the long-term. They emphasize good agricultural practice where the focus on animal husbandry will ultimately create a stable population of predators. Specific problem predators should be identified and dealt with using methods that are humane, selective, ecologically sound, and conducted within a legal framework.

Public opinion is 99% against the use of lethal predator control.
Public concern over lethal predator control stems from the abhorrence of barbaric ways of killing animals, and the threat to non-target innocents, endangered wildlife, and pets. Therefore the use of gin traps and poison has been banned in more than 90 countries worldwide.
Public behaviour is 99% in favour of maintaining their addiction to Karoo lamb chops.

Humans are able to satisfy all their nutritional needs from plants alone. The consumption of animal products causes cruelty at production level, environmental degradation, global warming, and is now known to have deleterious effects on health.

Nobody disagrees with the notion that it is wrong to inflict unnecessary suffering on an animal. We can forgive almost anything but we can’t forgive intentionally harming animals without there being very good reason.

The way we consider animals and the environment has evolved, and agricultural practice needs to keep pace with modern thinking. One way to create a more caring society is for us all to strive for non-violence towards animals and people. Once we realize that every living creature has inherent value (deep ecology principles) then our consciousness shifts to embrace the qualities of compassion and empathy for all life and we can truly understand what it means to love.

Prince Albert Shepherding Project:

If the ultimate solution lies in the perfection of holistic farm management, then the concept of shepherding can be modified to suit modern farming systems that need to become ‘greener’ and diversified to remain sustainable. Farmers are addressing the issue of ‘enhancing the community’s ability to create enterprises’, and tapping into tourism which has been identified as a ‘key economic activity’, and if handled wisely can help to support farming ventures.

According to our town’s IDP ‘Agriculture was traditionally the cornerstone of the economy of Prince Albert, but tourism is now one of the fastest growing sectors of our region’ and ‘one weakness is the lack of adventure activities’. Extensive farming is in reality becoming unsustainable. So the agricultural sector clearly has to think up innovative ways of capitalizing on the rise in tourism. It makes sense to encourage tourists to support ecologically sound farming systems. It also follows that the consumer will also support humane farming if given the option. Prominent retailers will pay a premium for ethically raised livestock products.

The Sheepherders Guild of Prince Albert is designing a pilot shepherding project to be conducted on selected farms. Shepherds will receive training in animal husbandry, diseases, first aid, the environment and its plants and animals, and as guides. The project will also include bringing tourism into the open spaces of the Karoo. A core group of experienced shepherds will later be able to provide a guaranteed service to the farmer on a contract basis with success based incentives. Farmers and interested parties are invited to comment or offer expertise to help develop this proactive community initiative.