Leopard Monitoring with Wildlife ACT
One of my best experiences this year has been working as a wildlife monitor on the Wildlife Act - Panthera Leopard Survey in the beautiful Zululand. The survey is run in association with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Isimangaliso Wetlands Park.
Panthera and Wildlife Act
Panthera is an global NGO devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cat species and their ecosystems. They run camera trap surveys around the world to monitor wild cat populations. In northern KwaZulu Natal, the leopard survey is conducted through Wildlife Act -a South African non-profit organisation. Wildlife ACT is primarily funded by voluntourism and provides game reserves with tracking and monitoring services free of charge.
The organisation has been on my radar for some time. I have been fortunate to have an opportunity to do real conservation alongside like-minded people who share the same high conservation values.
It has been a great honour to play a role in the conservation of this elegant and elusive species. Leopards (Panthera pardus) have lost 80% of their historic range in South Africa and their numbers continue to decline. The main threats to leopards in Southern Africa include habitat loss, poaching for their skins and indiscriminate persecution resulting from human-wildlife conflict.
About the Leopard Survey
The aim of the Leopard Survey is to collect important information on leopards such as leopard population numbers, density, and demographic composition. Information is collected through the use of camera trap data.
This enables scientific and governmental authorities to make important management decisions for the protection of the species.
Working in the Wilderness
The past six months have been hard work but at the same time lots of fun. The project runs across five different reserves in northern Kwazulu Natal. Each survey lasts 45 days after which we take down the cameras, pack up camp, and leave for a new site where we setup again from scratch.
One of the great things about the survey is travelling to the different sites, and working in some of the most breath-taking reserves in the country. It has been a major perk to visit areas restricted to the public. I have especially enjoyed accessing some of the more remote areas on foot.
It is incredibly special to be able to see iconic wildlife in a South African game reserve without the regular hoard of tour trucks and private vehicles. Out here you do not get swarmed at predator sightings like you would typically experience in other national parks.
Creatures of the Night
Another great advantage of the survey is being able to get footage of some of the most elusive nocturnal animals like aardwolf and brown hyena. This was a major highlight, as I know that it may be my closest chance to ever see some of these animals live.
Weirdly, when working on the leopard survey, actual live leopard sightings are extremely rare. We coined the phenomenon “the curse of the leopard survey.”
You do however get the most incredible images on the camera traps.
Playing a role in Leopard Conservation
Ultimately, the greatest part of the experience was being able to contribute toward the conservation of this remarkable animal. In the past, data from the leopard survey has been used to place a ban on the trophy hunting of leopards in the region. Hopefully, the survey will continue to grow across Africa forming a cohesive unit of leopard protection efforts across the continent.