Keeping count of leopards

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The Augrabies Falls National Park (AFNP) is best known for its thunderous waterfall where the Orange River cascades down the deep gorge, but few visitors to the region realise that leopards roam the rocky hills and gullies in the area.

These secretive animals are rarely seen, but you can pick up evidence of their presence through spoor and the occasional feeding site. Sometimes they come into conflict with local farmers, often with disastrous consequences. In April 2019, a farmer shot a leopard after it was caught in a trap just 20km from the western boundary of the park.

Landmark Foundation, an NGO with a focus on human-leopard conflict, has been studying the leopards in the region since 2012. Their project recently expanded into the AFNP with an ambitious camera trap survey designed to plot the entire section of the park south of the Orange River. The aim of the project was to establish the size of the leopard population and its demographics, and to evaluate the extent to which the area acts as a source for the leopards in the region.

Camera trap image

The first deployment of cameras took place in November 2018 over an area close to the main rest camp and game viewing roads. Each deployment involved setting up around 25 camera stations in an approximately uniform grid within a section of the park. These stations remained in place for three months. A station is made up of two camera traps, automatically triggered when any animal walks between them. Both sides of any triggering leopards are photographed simultaneously.

The team returned in February 2019 to download the data and to move the cameras into the more remote western section of the park. Of the 2 450 unique trigger events from all stations, 35 species were identified. Most importantly, 29 of these capture events were of leopards.

The team identified four individual leopards – two females, a male and what appears to be a large subadult cub with its mother. This is a typical population structure for a region where a single male’s territory overlaps that of several females.

However, a number of images were difficult to identify as one of these four, so the total number may change over time as more photographs become available from the study.

If you see a leopard in the park you are urged to email matthew@landmarkfoundation.org.za

 

Written and photos by Matthew Schurch, Landmark Foundation

Copyrights 2019 Safari News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission. 

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