It has been recognized that there is a significant importance to improve the current lack of understanding of the conservation status of leopard. A highly specialized behavior and social structure make it difficult to undertake any sort of detailed research study. Gondwana Game Reserves attractive leopard habitat together with access to remote senses cameras makes this study possible. Gondwana will provide a wonderful opportunity to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the conservation status and the needs of leopards in Fynbos areas close to the Langeberg and Outeniqwa mountains.
About the Leopard
The name Leopard was derived from the Greek word leopardos after leo for lion and pardus for panther. It was first named in 1758 where they were described as Felis pardus by the famous Linnaeus.In 1930 R. I. Pocock renamed it Panthera pardus, distinguishing it from the non-roaring cats. Initially, some 13 sub-species were named to occur in Africa, but more recently controversy led to the suggestion in 1995 of classing all African leopards into a single subspecies Panthera pardus pardus
What is their conservation status and why the need for concern?
At the moment, leopards fill the role of an apex predator of all mountains and surrounding farmland in the Western-Cape. The conservation status, however, remains uncertain because they are regularly removed or exterminated from farms with little knowledge of population or genetic status. Questions remain whether these removals are sustainable or whether the factors give rise to concern. The reason for the removal or extermination of leopards by farmers is of the believe that the leopard kill their livestock in the form of cattle, sheep, goats and poultry.
Preliminary studies show that:
1. leopard in the Cape differ morphologically as well as genetically from leopards elsewhere in Southern Africa
2. Leopard in the Western Cape may have home ranges 10 times larger than reported in earlier studies and research, illustrating that the population of leopards might be far smaller than fist expected.
Potential conservation potential on Gondwana Game Reserve
Gondwana offers 11 200 hectares (27 675 acres) of open country that provides perfect habitat and facilities for a sustainable leopard project. Evidence of leopard is constantly seen in and around the reserve; however sightings of leopard are scarce, due to the historical conflict with farmers. Surviving individuals have learnt how to avoid human and vehicle activity. This behaviour is something we would like to change through this project. Gondwana’s electrified perimeter fence (2.4m high) protects the species from the surrounding areas and creates a safe haven for animals within its boundaries. The reserve, removed from poaching and legal hunting, provides the perfect area to habituate individuals and to change their existing behaviour.
Gondwana habitat consists of endless Fynbos, renosterveld, wide nutrient rich valleys covered in Acacia karoo thickets, alien dominated thickets and previously cultivated lands. The ability to provide sufficient diet is mandatory. The reserve supports key prey species with leopard preferring prey smaller than 70kg in mass such as; Grey Duiker, Cape’s Grysbok, Bushbuck, Marsh rat, Scrub Hare, Grey Rhebuck, Bushpig, Baboon, Klipspringer, Guinea Fowl, Spurfowl and more of a concern lately is the Vervet Monkey which is making their way here from the Eastern Cape. We have recorded 5 large troops of baboon that are permanently on the reserve, which may become problematic in the future. The information gathered from the project may lead to answers in using leopard, through introduction, to help with the natural balance of baboons. We have recorded 2 baboon carcasses left by leopard on the reserve.
Leopards are primarily nocturnal and kill mostly at night. When stalking, a leopard crawls up to the prey to a distance of between 4 and 7 metres. It then leaps forward onto the animal with immense power and speed. They usually kill their prey by throttling, but occasionally a bite to the back of the head will be used with smaller prey. We have one recording of a caracal (Felis caracal) being killed this way on Gondwana. Lion and elephant expert Dave Patterson helped investigate the carcass and confirmed there was leopard activity.
Like most cats leopards have a low % of attempts turning into a successful kill. They may return to a hidden carcass repeatedly for up to six days. They are excellent swimmers and do not hesitate to enter water. Leopards are vicious when aggravated, short tempered and constantly ready for a fight. Attempts to follow a leopard on foot are very dangerous and the uttermost caution is essential. When stumbling across one unexpectedly, eye-to-eye contact and sudden movement should be avoided as these trigger an immediate attack. Their most characteristic vocalisation is a hoarse rasping cough, repeated at intervals.
Leopards are solitary animals except when they pair during mating or when a female is companied by her cubs. The mating pair splits soon after mating. The cubs leave the mother shortly after the birth of the next litter at an age of 12-18 months and become solitary. They generally become nomads for 6-12 months and then establish a home range.
Sexual maturity is gained after two years and social maturity at first mating at three to four years of age. There is no specific breeding or birth season as mating occurs at any time of the year. Copulation is of short duration and is repeated several times within one or two days. Gestation varies between 90 and 106 days. One to four cubs with closed eyes are born in a den that is either hidden between rocks, in a cave, a deserted burrow or in thicket vegetation. While the mother is out hunting for the first few weeks, and leaving the cubs behind the cubs are extremely vulnerable to predation, especially by jackal, caracal and python.
What do we want to do/ achieve through the Gondwana Leopard project?
1. Determine how many individuals we have on the reserve
2. Determine in which areas they occur
3. Determine territories and home ranges
4. Determine what they are eating
5. Estimate carrying capacity
6. Determine next steps
a. Habituation programs
b. Use existing individuals
c. Introduce new individuals
d. Introduce more individuals
We believe increasing the viewing potential of an individual increases the conservation value of that specific animal. Getting to know the behaviour through first hand sightings and the ability to be able to share that knowledge through interactive sightings will allow us to make more informative management decisions into the future. We therefore will focus on correct habituation programs to facilitate this process.
Remote sensor cameras
• These provide an accurate non invasive monitoring system
• Motion sensors activate multiple photos (three in one minute)
• Built in flash allows for night photography
• Digital memory cards for instant downloading
• Sturdy camera boxes protecting the cameras from animal activity
• This is an important facility for the habituation of either existing individuals or animals to be brought in
• The boma needs to be build to leopard proof specifications
• The boma will familiarise and educate the leopard to electric fencing
• The boma will create a sound base for introducing leopard to vehicles while being in a secure environment
• The boma will help acclimatize new individuals to the area
1. Locate strategic positions for the placement of the stealth cams
a. There can be more selected sites then cameras
2. Place camera boxes at all predetermined stealth camera sites
a. Firmly attach camera boxes to a secure object i.e. trees
3. Place remote sensor cameras in allocated positions
a. A pattern needs to be created to rotate cameras through sites on a six month rotation
b. The rotation needs to be done on a six month rotation due to the potential large territory size. Leopard may only pass certain location within their territory once every several months.
4. Down load pictures and replace batteries on a four day cycle
5. Analyse photos taken.
a. Create ID kits for positive leopard sightings using spot patterns at the base of the whiskers and on their sides
6. Create data profiles for individual cameras and identified species photographed
7. Use data to determine sex ratios, territory size, age structures etc.
Example of stealth cam photo.
1. Build boma to leopard standards and specifications
2. Introduce either Gondwana Leopard or leopard from external source into boma
3. Initiate 3-5 month habituation program
4. Initiate sustainable feeding program while leopard is in the boma
5. Place GPS collars onto leopard prior to release
6. Release leopard from Boma onto Gondwana Game Reserve
Cost of project
Item Amount Unit price Total price
New/Upgraded Boma 1 R 15 000 R 15 000
Cameras 10 R 2 500 R 25 000
Camera boxes 20 R 50 R 1 000
Batteries 20 (sets) R 150 R 3 000
Management fee 1 R0 (Gondwana Wildlife team) R 0
Drop door cages 1 R 1 000 R 1 000
Drugs box R 7 000 R 7 000
TOTAL R 52 000
* see attached donation schedule
How will we make the results public?
All results will be posted online through the Gondwana Conservation trust link on Gondwana Game Reserves website.
The link will be updated bi monthly with the following information:
1. Remote sensor pictures of leopard together all species of interest e.g. bushpig, caracal and Aardwolf
2. ID kits and number of positively identified individuals
3. Update on movement on specific individuals
4. Update and GPS coordinates on tracks found, kills and denning sites identified
5. Update on habituation process once a leopard is in the boma
6. Update on regional movement once a leopard has been released from the boma using GPS coordinates from collar
Gondwana Conservation Trust’s ultimate goal is to establish the infrastructure on Gondwana Game Reserve to run a sustainable and successful leopard research project. Gondwana has the opportunity to significantly contribute to the better understanding of the conservation status of leopard in the Western Cape region. The program is designed to be interactive and to include all parties contributing to the cause. The project will contribute to the Gondwana’s ecotourism and in turn expose the need for similar projects elsewhere in the Cape Province.
If you are interested in getting involved in Gondwana Conservation Trust Leopard Project please contact Albert Swart via email email@example.com