The conflict between farmer and predator has existed ever since man first domesticated sheep, cattle and other prey animals.

Many of the methods employed to combat livestock losses result in the indiscriminate killing of predators and other wildlife. It’s estimated that in South Africa today, up to 80 percent of the animals killed with these traditional methods, including gin traps, snares and poisons, are non-target species including endangered species such as leopards, badgers and Cape vultures.

Most farmers would prefer to co-exist with nature, but need to use some form of predator control in order to protect their investment in livestock. In recent years conservationists have been working with some farmers, encouraging the use of alternative methods of predator control that have minimal or no impact on the natural environment. In many cases these methods, such as the use of Anatolian or Maluti guard dogs, llamas, protective collars, alpacas and shepherds to protect livestock, have proven more effective than traditional methods.

Woolworths, which has been involved with these trials for a number of years as part of our sustainability programme (the Good business journey), is now committing R4.7 million over three years to create a sustainable wildlife-friendly lamb supply. This is the largest sum of money any organisation has so far committed to addressing the ongoing conflict between farmers and predators in South Africa.

The funding will go to key NGOs operating in different areas of Southern Africa from which Woolworths sources its lamb: ConservationSA and the Cape Leopard Trust; the Landmark Foundation; and the Endangered Wildlife Trust. These NGOs will be tasked with enlisting farmers in a programme to put various non-lethal predator control methods to the test. Woolworths will then source lamb from these farmers.

Funds have also been allocated to key support resources including Cheetah Outreach, which breeds Anatolian guard dogs, and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where the first South African scientific assessment of predators is being undertaken by Professor Graham Kerley.

“As a responsible retailer we have a duty to protect the natural environment and promote animal welfare. At the same time, our customers are also becoming more aware of the indiscriminate and cruel methods of predator control being used, and are asking us to offer them wildlife-friendly lamb,” says Zyda Rylands, MD of Foods. “We have been involved for several years and have previously sponsored 10 Anatolian guard dogs as well as the publication of a conservation manual for sheep and cattle farmers. We believe that farmers are becoming more receptive of alternative, non-lethal predator control methods and that the time is ripe to step efforts up a gear.”

“If, together with these NGOs, we can convince enough farmers that adopting non-lethal predator control methods not only helps preserve the delicate balance of nature, but also makes good financial sense, we should be able to have wildlife-friendly lamb on our shelves in the not too distant future.”

‘We are pleased that Woolworths is investing in the development of sound farming practices that will result in predator friendly meat being offered in its stores, and in so doing, is leading the way with ethical food production, conservation friendly farming and consumer education, to the betterment of our planet and all its inhabitants,’ says Yolan Friedmann CEO: Endangered Wildlife Trust

       Q & A

  • Why is Woolworths committing so much money to promoting wildlife-friendly meat?

As a responsible retailer we have a duty to protect the natural environment and promote animal welfare. Both of these are part of our Good Business Journey commitments to sustainability. Many of our customers have also indicated that they would prefer to buy lamb that comes from wildlife-friendly sources.

  • How did you select the NGOs to support?

We have worked extensively with all these organisations. They all have proven track records and are best placed to achieve the goal of establishing sustainable sources of wildlife-friendly lamb.

  • How will they select the farmers?

The farmers will all need to be located within the catchment area of a Woolworths-approved abattoir.

  • Are you making farmers out to be the “bad guys”?

Not at all. Farmers have an incredible love for the land and an understanding of the role predators play in maintaining the delicate balance of nature. At the same time, they also need to ensure that their assets – like livestock – are protected. In a 2010 survey, the estimated cost of livestock loss to predation in that year was R1.8 billion.

  • Why are farmers resistant to the use of wildlife-friendly methods of predator control?

Methods like gin traps, snares and poison have been used by some farming communities for generations. Our experience has been that once a farmer sees for himself that wildlife-friendly methods work, he is much more inclined to adopt them.