Leopard and Predator project
The Landmark Foundation is a conservation NGO established in 2004. The Leopard and Predator Project addresses the persecution of predators in South Africa with a special focus on leopards in the Cape. The foundation has established a leopard rescue, rehabilitation, release and research program. In addition we work to expand leopard and predator habitats, influence policy affecting these animals and have commenced with the establishment of a wildlife friendly brand called Fair Game™ to incentivize wildlife friendly land management. We have also developed an extensive education program and are involved in school, adult, industry and consumer education campaigns.
To date we have been privileged to save 41 leopards from certain death, but have also lost 43 leopards in that time. They died in either gin-traps, from poisons or hunting. Our interactions with these leopards have given an opportunity to collect data from them. Of those we have been able to save, 24 have been collared with GPS devices, making the research project one of the largest research studies on leopard in the world.
Why Particularly Focus on Leopards?
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a protected species. They are the last remaining top predator in much of their range in the Cape. They therefore play an essential role in the ecosystem. By ensuring leopards remain in the system, other species from antelope and plants are automatically conserved. Our focus is thus on the conservation of the entire trophic pyramid. These animals are not restricted to protected areas as obstacles such as fences are easily crossed. The loss of habitat and persecution by humans are the two major factors which cause leopard and other species to diminish and become extinct in most areas.
What we do:
Less than 20% of South Africa’s landscape is protected (by the state or privately) and our efforts are not limited to these fragments. We focus on establishing regional scale connectivity of leopard and other indigenous migratory wildlife populations across the country by working with private landowners. Private landowners make up 80% of South Africa’s land containing the country’s biodiversity. Here we can ensure that the leopard, along with other species, has enough habitat available to ensure their survival for future generations. Our research indicates that leopards in the Cape are in dire need of conservation action. In fact their regional survival is perilously dependent on these conservation efforts as their local populations have become isolated to small population groupings in protected areas. This has resulted in the local populations being genetically isolated from regionally similar groupings and facing a genetic abyss through this bottleneck. Conservation action thus HAS to focus on establishing and maintaining genetic corridors or mechanisms to ensure the species survival. The threat to leopards has effectively created artificial meta-populations that are isolated from one another. Conservation thus have to re-establish genetic linkages if the species is to survive regionally. This ambition underpins all our activities.
We have a strong advocacy campaign against indiscriminate lethal controls such as gin-traps which often catch all species from duiker and porcupine to jackal and leopard, as they are unselective devices, never mind barbarically cruel. Much of our efforts are spent on informing and providing farmers with ecologically acceptable and ethical means of reducing conflict between humans and predators. This has included the use of livestock guardian dogs, alpacas, various livestock protection collars, breed selection and management strategies which all protect livestock from predators. These practices replace indiscriminant controls such as gin-traps, poisons and hunting dog packs commonly used to eradicate predators on farmlands. With lethal controls removed from these farms, they become potential corridors between protected areas for species that are not contained by fences, and in so doing link populations genetically. By using these ecologically and ethically acceptable measures, biodiversity is not threatened. Furthermore, production studies have indicated dramatic successes in improved livestock production when using such management practices.
The Landmark Foundation has expanded habitats for predators through the establishment of private nature reserves, working with cooperative landowners and participating farmers. In essence we promote a change from predator control to livestock protection, which has proven to be better for biodiversity and more profitable.
Our main objectives are:
- Rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured or captured species, with a particular focus on leopards.
- Advocacy to ban gin-traps, hunting dogs and poison traps.
- Research into leopard ecology and management at landscape level.
- Instituting ethical and ecologically acceptable management methodologies on participating farms.
- Developing a green brand (Fair Game) and consumer awareness for the public to make a difference.
- Education of scholars and the general public regarding predators, often using arts and culture that promotes our natural heritage.
- Increasing suitable landscape / habitat for predators and biodiversity outside of protected areas.