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Space use in a South African agriculture landscape by the caracal (Caracal caracal)

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Abstract

Agricultural expansion has replaced many natural habitats and the landscape structure with potential benefits to certain wildlife species. Some of mesocarnivores widely use man-made habitats in agri-ecosystems that are devoid of large carnivores and often prey on livestock. We examined the space use and habitat relationships of radio-collared caracals Caracal caracal between May 2013 and December 2014 in the Drakensberg Midlands, South Africa, to identify suitable habitat for better management of caracals that are perceived as pests in these fragmented agricultural mosaic landscapes. Home ranges of males were bigger than those of females. Caracal movements increased more during the night than the daytime indicating avoidance of peak exposure time to human activities during the day in agricultural lands. Generalized linear mixed models showed that caracal space use increased with area availability of plantations and cultivations while their space use decreased with increasing altitude and area availability of forests. Our results showed that the modified habitat use over natural habitats and preference to altitude <1200 m by caracals are a consequence of behavioural facilitation and adaptation to access highly available prey resources, particularly, livestock and rodents in irrigated farmlands. Caracals have adapted to take advantage of the trophic resource enhancement by farming practices in agri-ecosystems, thereby facilitating their range expansion in agri-ecosystems, South Africa. Our findings aid in the sustainable management and planning of production-orientated agricultural lands. Therefore, management of these mesocarnivores is dependent on the conservation of sufficient natural habitats and prey species, to minimize their dependence on livestock and consequently reduce farmer-caracal conflict.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the University of KwaZulu-Natal for providing financial support to the first two authors under the Post-doctoral Research Programme. In addition, TR was also funded by National Research Foundation, South Africa. We would like to thank all the farming communities in the Drakensberg Midland for allowing the first author to carry out research activities on their farmland. R. Van Deventer (Veterinarian), V. Hugo and G. Mortimer are thanked for enabling capturing and collaring of caracals. Graduate students who helped the first author in the field are highly appreciated. We are most grateful to C. Brown and K. O’Conner for accommodation and support during the course of field work.

Author information

Correspondence to Colleen T. Downs.

Ethics declarations

All capture efforts undertaken followed the procedures outlined by the ethical clearance from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act 2004, South Africa (permit number: O 27280).

Appendix

Appendix

Fig. 4
figure4

Home range (km2) estimates for female (C1, C2, C4, C5, C6) and male (C4) radio-collared caracals in the fragmented landscape of the Drakensberg Midlands, South Africa (FK fixed kernel estimate)

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Ramesh, T., Kalle, R. & Downs, C.T. Space use in a South African agriculture landscape by the caracal (Caracal caracal). Eur J Wildl Res 63, 11 (2017) doi:10.1007/s10344-016-1072-3

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Keywords

  • Agriculture mosaics
  • Home range
  • Mesocarnivore
  • Plantation
  • Radio-tracking
  • Resource use