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Aardvark and people: can a shy species be widely known in a localised area?

dc.contributor.advisorKraai, Manqhai.
dc.contributor.advisorTsvuura, Zivanai.
dc.contributor.authorMakwati, Nolutho.
dc.descriptionMasters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.en_US
dc.description.abstractThe increase in human populations has led to humans sharing space with wild animals even in the natural habitats of the animals. Conflicts may arise when people and wildlife attempt to fulfill their needs which can be detrimental to one or both parties, and this type of conflict is called human-wildlife conflict (HWC). The human needs include people hunting wild animals for consumption of the animal and trading in animal body parts.Hunting is one of the factors that decreases populations of numerous animal species, and it occurs in many parts of the world e.g. in Africa, Asia and South America, where it contributes to extinction of species. The conservation and management of burrowing animals is a major challenge due to their elusive and nocturnal behaviour. The aardvark is an African medium-sized, burrowing mammal whose conservation status has not been updated recently due to the difficulties associated with studying nocturnal animals. Aardvarks may play a significant ecological role in the ecosystems in which they occur, such as by changing the landscape through their digging activities, or through affecting the dispersal of seeds. Therefore, the aim of this study was to explore the influence of humans on population trends and activity patterns of aardvarks outside protected areas, and to determine people’s perceptions about the animal. The study was conducted in Ncunjane village in Msinga Local Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa. To understand people’s perceptions about aardvark in their community, I used a semistructured questionnaire survey. I asked personal information of the participants (sex, level of education and age), and questions related to people’s perceptions about the aardvark, such as people’s knowledge, myths, and their uses of the animal or its body parts. To determine activity patterns of the animal, I focused on aardvark foraging activities in a semi- arid savanna ecosystem that is also used as a communal rangeland over eight months between 2020 and 2021. I measured and quantified aardvark foraging holes using 53 50 m × 10 m transects where there was evidence of aardvark activity. In addition, I quantified aardvark burrowing of dens in the dry, wet and early dry seasons using walking transects guided by a research assistant who knows the area. I found that people have different perspectives about aardvark with the majority (78%) of respondents having strongly positive perceptions. The positive perceptions arise from aardvark not causing physical harm to people, and fleeing away upon sighting people. I found that aardvarks were mainly hunted for meat while some animal body parts were sold to traditional healers for traditional medicine. All seasons consisted of a greater number (> 51%) of old than new and very old foraging holes.The surface area of new, old, very old holes differed significantly with season (P < 0.0001) and the depth of new, old and very old holes also varied with season (P < 0.0001). In addition, the contents of foraging holes varied with age of the hole and season in that new holes lacked evidence of plant life across seasons. Aardvark dens were used by other animals such as spiders, wild cats, Cape porcupines and snakes. Hence, an increase in aardvark holes can be associated with significant landscape heterogeneity for vegetation and animal life. Aardvarks in Ncunjane fed close to their dens presumablyto mitigate against human predation through hunting threats, which may directly affect the extent of aardvark digging activities. These results show that aardvarks may be categorised as ecosystem engineers as the burrows provide shelter for other animals, also, their effects on other animals are disproportionate to their abundance. These results highlight that aardvarks are threatened by human uses and may decline in abundance in the area. Finally, aardvarks remain poorly studied in landscapes shared with humans. Further studies to assess aardvark numbers in human-dominated landscapes are required which can raise awareness and play a significant role in conservation of aardvarks.en_US
dc.subject.otherHuman-wildlife conflict.en_US
dc.subject.otherSemi-arid savanna ecosystem.en_US
dc.titleAardvark and people: can a shy species be widely known in a localised area?en_US


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