Fatal human-wildlife conflict is a growing problem. Losses of livestock to predators severely impact rural livelihoods, and predators become the targets for lethal control when they kill valuable animals. Keeping carnivores away from domestic stock will protect both carnivores and the livelihoods of stock owners, and limiting human-predator conflict in Botswana’s livestock areas would provide 250 000square km of predator habitat, double the size of her protected wildlife areas.

Livestock predation has major impacts on small farmers; this is one of seven calves killed by leopards in three nights at a livestock kraal

To be viable, any conflict mitigation measures must be low-cost, low-tech,and quick and easy to apply. Scent-based repellents offer just such a tool, and research by BPCT’s BioBoundary Program has demonstrated that leopards are repelled by the scent of a chemical from leopard urine. When we released tiny quantities of the chemical, called 3-mercapto-3-methylbutanol (3M3MB for short), near automatic trail cameras, the cameras captured only one leopard video when we expected them to capture approximately 20, and that video showed a leopard being repelled by the scent of 3M3MB.

In a frame from a camera trap video, a female leopard grimaces and turns away from the repellent dispenser just in front of her

At a livestock kraal on a cattle ranch in northern Botswana, camera trapping for four-months without 3M3MB yielded seven records of leopards, seven records of spotted hyaenas, and one record of four African wild dogs, and a calf was taken by a leopard but not recorded on video. Over a further 4.5 months with 3M3MB present, there were no records of leopards, and only one record each of spotted hyaenas and wild dogs, with no losses of calves.

View from a camera trap monitoring a livestock kraal. Repellent dispensers are on both sides of the gate (yellow arrows) and another camera (blue arrow) watches from the other direction 

One of the seven records of leopards at a livestock kraal before 3M3MB repellent was deployed

One of a clan of four spotted hyaenas in a livestock kraal before 3M3MB repellent was deployed

Two African wild dogs out of a pack of four videoed in a livestock kraal before 3M3MB repellent was deployed

At another livestock kraal, a female leopard with a large male cub killed seven calves in three nights at the end of July 2019. 3M3MB repellent was deployed two days later, with camera traps monitoring the surroundings of the kraal. No more calves were lost until the repellent was depleted at the end of August, when one calf was taken. While the repellent was active, the camera traps captured video of a leopard walking away from the kraal after spending nearly 20 minutes looking through the fence at the calves inside. The repellent was renewed on 3 September and although the camera-traps videoed leopards outside the kraal on four occasions, no calves were killed until 14 October when the repellent was depleted again. Repellent was renewed on 25 October and there have been no more losses.

Peter Apps loading 3M3MB repellent dispensers at the kraal where leopards had killed seven calves

Frame from a video of the leopard that killed a calf after the 3M3MB repellent was depleted

Frame from a video of a leopard watching calves through the fence of the kraal while the3M3MB repellent was active

The leopard that was watching the calves leaves the kraal

Frames from four video records of leopards walking away from the kraal without killing calves while the 3M3MB repellent was active

These small-scale trials show clearly that 3M3MB has the potential to reduce leopard attacks on livestock, which are the main reason why farmers employ lethal control against predators, and we plan to continue testing at more kraals. Livestock owners have expressed interest in a pilot-scale roll–out of repellents, and we need funding to expand the testing.

Written by

Peter Apps, PHD

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