Research

Our ongoing research projects are aimed at understanding predator ecology and establishing the best methods for wildlife friendly farming.

Current Projects

  • Investigating the landscape ecology & management of leopard (Panthera pardus) in protected & unprotected habitats
  • A comparative analysis of the effectiveness, the ecological & economic viability of non-lethal management of depredation on livestock farms

Current Research Areas

  • Baviaanskloof Mega Reserve
  • Cockscomb mountains
  • Swartberg Mountains
  • Garden Route
  • Langeberg
  • Hex River
  • Overberg
  • De Hoop
  • Great Karoo
Ciick here to download research publications
research

Research blog

Leopards in The Cape

The research has a broad focus, investigating the landscape ecology and management of leopards within and outside of protected areas of the Eastern and Western Cape. The study area makes up a massive area of 4,5 million hectares, stretching from Addo in the east to Gordon’s Bay in the west.

Leopards have been collard in the Greater Addo Elephant National Park, Baviaanskloof, Garden Route, the Langkloof, The Langeberg, the Overberg, Hex River Valley and De Hoop since 2007 allowing us a great deal of insight into best understanding their spatial requirements (their territories and social dynamics), habitat selection and avoidances, genetic vigor, population densities, hunting activity and management. This is particularly important in areas outside of protected land. To date 22 leopards have been monitored and their movement and biology studied within different landscapes. An average adult females weigh 22 kg, and males 42 kg, half that of their counter parts in the northern areas of South Africa. Some of these leopards have demonstrated successful regional translocations – 7 leopards have successfully been translocated from areas where their lives were imperiled to the Addo Elephant National Park.

The Baviaanskloof leopards occupy inhospitable mountainous areas, as these are the areas which have offered them the most protection from people over time. This current habitat range probably reflects only a remnant of its former range in the region. Here they require large ranges in order to ensure their energetic requirements / food supply is enough to survive. Here, leopards sometimes move as far as 18 km in a day when hunting. On average the males here use 250 km² (25 000ha) while females use 120 km². One male utilizes as much as 60 000ha and hosts three females within his range – sadly, this cat was shot by a local farmer 29th November 2010. This leopard had been monitored by the project for three years.

Their large spatial requirements restrict their numbers in an area as they are density dependent. They are territorial and males allow as much as 10% range overlap with another male (as long as they don’t interfere with their females) while females have very strict boundaries not allowing any overlap with other females.

In the Garden Route forests, prey is more frequently available and the leopards thus utilize smaller ranges. Males are using 100 km² and females half of that – allowing two females to one male on average. A major problem for leopards in the forest, however, is the loss of habitat. In 1996, 2200km² of forest was available to leopards in the Garden Route, in 2009 merely 800km² was available which has disastrous effects on not only the leopard population but biodiversity in general. Research into their diet indicates that bushbuck and vlei rats are important components of the diet of these forest leopards.

With the use of GPS collars, camera traps and DNA analysis the population densities in the respective areas of focus can finally be identified. In the greater Baviaanskloof area (3500 km²/ 350 000 ha) there are merely 30 – 35 territorial leopards remaining, while in the fragmented patches of indigenous forest in the Garden Route (of 800 km²/ 80 000 ha) only 20 – 25 leopards remain. This indicates that the species desperately needs conservation priority and management in the region, and that its conservation status in the region is critically endangered.

Camera trap

For these reasons the foundation investigates where the corridors between potentially isolated populations occur and promotes and facilitates the use of non-lethal controls in these areas. We recently collared a male leopard in an important corridor which can link potentially isolated leopard populations of the Baviaanskloof and the Garden Route forests. This is an essential part of the puzzle. His movements are interesting as his range varies from protected mountainous terrain, indigenous forests, invasive wattle forests, pine plantations and agriculture. He will provide us with a lot of information on how leopards are affected within different land use areas.

Our research is ongoing and aims to best understand these elusive creatures in order to best manage them and the essential ecological processes they provide.

Ms Jeannine McManus is the research and field manager. She is currently doing her PhD with the University of the Witwatersrand.

BACKGROUND

Leopards are considered to be vulnerable in the Southern African region, facing the risk of extinction in the medium term (NEMBA, 2007). Locally in the Cape it is probably more correctly described as critically endangered. Loss of habitat, human-caused mortality, and isolation of small populations are major concerns in the conservation of large carnivores (Clark et al., 1996; Singleton & Lehmkuhl, 2001). The loss of habitat and connectivity between populations, compounded by continuing persecution of leopards cause population numbers to decline within many parts of their range (Rabinowitz & Winter, 2006).

Carnivore populations are critically important to maintaining healthy ecosystems (Terborgh et al., 1999; Terborgh et al., 2002). As top predators, the presence of large carnivores in an area has many important ecological consequences, such as the regulation of prey numbers, population control of mesopredators through competition, and maintenance of a functional balance of biodiversity in the local community (Krebs et al., 1995; Terborgh et al., 1999; Logan & Sweanor, 2001).

Predator conservation has to date operated primarily within the boundaries of existing protected areas, but there are several limitations in relying solely upon this approach: only around 5% of the world’s land area is formally protected (Gittleman et al., 2001; Mills et al., 2001; CIA, 2003). Furthermore, parks and reserves are unlikely to be large enough to successfully contain viable populations of large carnivores, which often range over exceptionally large areas (Woodroffe et al., 1997; Woodroffe, 2001; Marker, 2002).

The effective conservation of such species hinges on their protection over vast areas, and the management of conservation-compatible and carnivore/human conflict reduction strategies on human-dominated land outside the existing protected area network will be crucial (Nowell & Jackson, 1996).

This strategy, if successful, would create ‘corridors’ of available habitat and enable linkages between protected areas, with important implications for gene flow, dispersal and long-term persistence of previously fragmented large carnivore populations (Simberloff & Mehlman, 1992; Beier, 1993)
Cite as: McManus, J.S. (2009) Spatial ecology and activity patterns of leopard (Panthera pardus) in the Baviaanskloof and Greater Addo Elephant National Park, Eastern Cape. M.Sc. Thesis. Rhodes University, South Africa.
References
RESEARCH RESULTS: LIVESTOCK MANAGEMENT

Research indicates that the use of protective livestock collars, livestock guarding dogs or Alpacas improve production on commercial farms by between 56 – 93%. These are the remarkable results measured over the first three years of non-lethal predator controls on 11 commercial farms (16 000 livestock units) in the Eastern Cape including the Graaff Reinet, Baviaanskloof, Jansenville, Cockscomb, Glenconner areas where predators vary from leopard to jackal and caracal. These results show that these methods are not only biodiversity friendly, but also very importantly economically viable management options. What is particularly noteworthy is that the production benefit, never mind the ecological and ethical gains, are across the board.

Landmark study
February 9th, 2015|Categories: Research|0 Comments