An experimental assessment of the efficacy of falconry to mitigate human-wildlife conflict: Egyptian Geese Alopochen aegyptiaca at golf courses
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AbstractIncludes bibliographical references
Human-wildlife conflicts are increasing globally and are believed to be one of the most prevalent and intractable issues that face conservation biologists today. One such conflict is found on golf courses, where high numbers of geese can come into conflict with residents and members. In South Africa, the indigenous Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca population has increased dramatically over recent years and as a result they are often seen as nuisance animals whose population requires active management. Most non-lethal methods of goose control have had little success due to habituation to their presence, whilst the use of lethal methods are often deemed socially unacceptable. In this study we experimentally investigated the efficacy of falconry as a management tool to mitigate human-wildlife conflict. We hypothesised that the use of falconry would re-establish a landscape of fear, whereby habitat choice is influenced by the perceived fear of predation, resulting in the local departure of geese to a safer habitat, thereby reducing the population of geese to a tolerable level. Absolute counts of geese and analysis of vigilance levels were conducted at three golf courses in the Western Cape which included two control sites and a treatment site. The results of the experiment indicate that goose abundance declined by 73% at the treatment site after falconry was initiated, and that this was well over the losses due to direct predation. Vigilance levels increased by 7 6% during the treatment period, with no such changes observed at either control site. Additionally, vigilance was higher when filmed from a golf buggy compared to when filmed on foot, which may suggest the geese also learned to associate the golf buggy with the threat of predation, enhancing the overall efficacy of the falconry. While there is a relatively small lethal aspect to falconry, the results of this study confirm that a reduction in the population of geese can be achieved by simulating the naturally occurring non-lethal effects of predation that have been lost in some habitats, as a result of anthropogenic changes to the landscape. To our knowledge, this is the first truly experimental test of the efficacy of falconry to reduce nuisance birds and these important ecological findings have relevance for techniques that people deploy for dealing with human wildlife conflict, particularly where lethal options are unfavourable.