Saving leopards and livestock in the Cape

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“Good fences make good neighbours” is a well-versed line by poet, Robert Frost, and for a community in the heart of the Cederberg, a reliable predator-proof fence is what’s needed to keep their neighbours out.

The Cape Leopard Trust  (CLT)is mending walls between Cape leopards and the Heuningvlei community by selling unused fencing material at a subsidised rate to subsistence farmers, in an initiative known as the Heuningvlei Kraal Project. (In South Africa, a ‘kraal’is a circular pen, made from low stonewalls and used to keep livestock in at night.)

“Our aim is to empower and uplift the community through technical support and training. Existing, low-walled enclosures built with rock are enforced with fencing material, donated to the project by a local commercial farmer, to render these kraals predator-proof. Participating community members contribute a minimal fee (13% of market value) per metre of fencing material received – instilling a sense of ownership in the initiative and to cover the CLT’s fence removal labour and transport costs,” says Lana Müller, operations and research manager at the Cape Leopard Trust. The CLT, a registered NGO founded in 2004 dedicated to researching and protecting predators in the Cape, was called to action following livestock losses from kraals in 2017.

Leopards are known for surplus killing, in other words they will sometimes kill more than they can eat. “There are cases where up to 40 sheep have been lost in one night, with many such cases taking place in enclosed kraals where the livestock cannot run away,” says Müller. Surplus killing is a major problem for subsistence farmers who only have five to 20 animals.

In addition to the predator-proof kraals safeguarding animals at night, communal herding is another method of reducing human-wildlife conflict during the day. “Farmers are unable to constantly watch their livestock throughout the day because they also need to tend to their vegetable gardens or tea fields. The aim is for up to 10 farmers to form combined herds through facilitation by the CLT and to then share herding responsibility in line with written agreements between farmers,” explains Müller.

Leopards in the Cape, although not a different subspecies, are half the mass of Kruger leopards, with males on average only weighing 35kg. In the Cape, leopards have exceptionally large territories partly due to the low prey densities across the Cape Fold Mountains.

“The main threat to leopards in the Cape is habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanisation and agricultural expansion, direct persecution in retaliation to livestock losses as well as prey base depletion,” says Müller.

Written by Georgina Lockwood

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