Leopard monitoring with Wildlife ACT
One of my best experiences this year has been working for Wildlife Act on the Panthera Leopard Survey in the beautiful Zululand. The survey is run in association with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Isimangaliso Wetlands Park.
Two great organizations
Panthera is an international NGO devoted exclusively to the conservation of the world’s wild cat species and their ecosystems. They are running a number of camera trap surveys across Southern Africa to monitor our local wild cat species including leopards. In the northen KwaZulu Natal region, the leopard survey is conducted through Wildlife Act which is a South African based non-profit organization. Wildlife ACT 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 individuals who share the same high conservation values.
It has been an 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 are habitat loss, deliberate poaching for their skins and unsustainable trophy hunting. They are also subjected to indiscriminate persecution resulting from human and wildlife conflict.
What the leopard survey is all about
The aim of the Leopard Survey is to obtain 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 be able to traverse areas restricted to the public. I have especially enjoyed accessing some of the more remote areas on foot.
It is extremely 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.