Leopard spotted in Karoo National Park

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The Karoo National Park near Beaufort West had a surprise visitor earlier this year. When researchers from the Nelson Mandela University had a look at their camera trap footage, they found a leopard among the collection of images – a first for the park.

“There have not been any sightings of leopards in the park since the proclamation,” says Karoo park manager Nico van der Walt. There have however been a few rare sightings and historic recordings in the area in the past.

It is uncertain where the leopard came from. According to Anita Wilkinson of the Cape Leopard Trust (CLT), leopard densities in the Western Cape are very low. Their ranges can be quite large, but this can vary between areas, she adds.

“A study by the CLT in 2010 in the Cederberg Wilderness Area revealed the average male leopard home range size is 300km². In the drier areas of the Cederberg falling within the Succulent Karoo Biome, the average home range size was recorded as 669km²,” says Wilkinson. Leopards have been recorded near Graaff-Reinet on Samara Private Game Reserve and are also found in the Anysberg Nature Reserve and the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

Elsewhere, in places like the Limpopo province, especially in the area of the Kruger National Park and its concessions, leopard ranges can be 25–50km², says Wilkinson.

The research project dubbed Snapshot Safari – South Africa, currently has 33 study sites across the country in various protected areas. PhD student Mika Vermeulen says they have only captured the leopard once, but the camera traps will be kept in field for the next three years.

She says there have also been other interesting photos of elusive, mainly nocturnal species, such as brown hyena, aardwolf and aardvark. The images will help answer biodiversity-related questions and postgraduate students from multiple universities are using the data. They are, however, relying on ordinary citizens to classify images.

Written by René de Klerk

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