FAQ

On this page we provide answers to common questions about general leopard biology and our Environmental Education and Research activities.

If you cannot find an answer to your question here, please do not hesitate to Contact Us.


What does the Cape Leopard Trust do?

The Cape Leopard Trust was launched in 2004 as an active predator conservation working group in the Cape. It uses research as a tool for conservation, finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict and inspiring interest in the environment through an interactive and dynamic environmental education programme. Since its inception, it has become an authority on predator conservation in the Cape, and one of the leading authorities in SA.

The organisation was initiated in the Cederberg to study the ecology of the Cape mountain leopard, a highly elusive predator differing in many respects to its northern counterparts. Over the years the Cape Leopard Trust has grown to include initiatives in the Boland mountains, Gouritz Biodiversity Corridor, Namaqualand and Table Mountain National Park. The Cape Leopard Trust Education and Outreach Programme (est. 2009) is a vital component of our work and operates mainly in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, The Cape Peninsula and the Boland Mountains.

How did the Cape Leopard Trust start?

Dr Quinton Martins began his study of leopards in the Cederberg Mountains in 2003. Hiking in these mountains, he found signs of leopards, but was shocked at how many were being killed. He realised that more than research was necessary.

Quinton sold all his valuables, including his cameras and his car, to fund his work, hitching lifts to the Cederberg and getting free accommodation at Oasis backpackers. It was only after receiving his first financial support on meeting Johan van der Westhuizen, a landowner from the Cederberg, that Quinton realised other people might be interested in funding the work he was doing.

Together, they set up the Cape Leopard Trust in 2004. This was followed by a hugely successful fundraising event, in which Leopard's Leap Wines and Rand Merchant Bank Fund pledged their support. Since then, the Cape Leopard Trust has grown from strength to strength, with Quinton having obtained his PhD on the Cederberg leopards.

Where is the CLT based?

The Cape Leopard Trust has an administrative office in Cape Town. Our employees are working across a number of project areas, namely the Boland mountains, the Cederberg Wilderness Area (with a satellite research base in the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve), the Gouritz Biodiversity Corridor, Namaqualand in the Northern Cape and the Table Mountain National Park in the Cape Peninsula.

Environmental Educators facilitate camps and day-trips in the Cederberg Wilderness Area, Boland Mountains and Cape Peninsula areas.

How many leopards are there in the Cederberg?

There are approximately 30 - 35 adult male and female leopards in a 3000km² area of the Cederberg Wilderness.

How many Cape leopards are left?

A study by Martins (2011) in the Cederberg region showed that the leopards here utilise far larger home ranges (between 235 km2 and 600 km2) than previously recorded and hence that they occur at lower population densities than previously thought. In the wetter, Fynbos region of the western Cederberg Wilderness Area as well as in the Boland mountains, leopards have somewhat smaller ranges compared to the drier Karoo areas, and the population density is therefore slightly higher.

There is no definitive total for leopard numbers in the Western Cape, however data from recent leopard studies in three distinct mountain areas suggest that there are fewer than 1000 leopards in the Western Cape.

Where do the Cape leopards occur?

The Cape leopards occur in the mountainous regions of the Cape where there are suitable natural habitat and adequate prey.

What is special about Cape leopards?

Cape leopards are smaller than those found elsewhere in Africa, being about half the mass. On average, the females weigh about 20kg and the males about 35kg. The Cape leopards also have exceptionally large home ranges:

Leopards in Kruger: Leopards in Cederberg:
Male: 25 - 50km² Male: 200 - 1000km²
Female: 10 - 25km² Female: 80 - 180km²

Is the Cape leopard a unique species?

All leopards on the African continent are currently taxonomically assigned to a single subspecies, Panthera pardus pardus. The southern African leopard population is comprised of a number of geographically isolated groups. Slight genetic differences that are recorded between these groups (spatial genetic structure) are attributed to the natural process called isolation-by-distance (IBD). In other words, when the genetic material of leopards from the Western Cape is compared to those from KwaZulu Natal or Limpopo, small differences are recorded, but not enough to classify each group as a separate sub-species. In order to maintain these natural genetic processes it is recommended that each geographical group is managed as separate units, and that leopards should not be translocated to or from discontinuous geographical areas.

Apart from the slight genetic difference, the Western Cape leopard population also differs morphologically from other populations. The leopards in the Western Cape are small and on average half the mass of leopards in the savanna regions.

What is a 'tier'?

Directly translated, a 'tier' is a tiger in Afrikaans, but many people still use it to describe leopards. The name was derived from the original name 'tyger', used by early European settlers in the Cape.

What is the difference between a leopard and a cheetah?

Although leopards and cheetahs are both large cats, they differ in many respects. Leopards hunt by stalking their prey, getting really close and pouncing. In the savanna regions they also often drag their prey up into trees. Leopards are therefore stocky and strong.

Cheetahs on the other hand, are built for speed, chasing their prey over longer distances, mostly in open terrain. They therefore have a slight build and long legs.

Another difference is in their markings – a leopard has rosettes (rings of spots) whereas a cheetah only has individual spots. Cheetahs also have characteristic black 'tear marks' on their faces.

Are Cape leopards endangered?

Leopards in Africa are classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. It is an adaptable and widespread species; however, the persistence of certain subpopulations is threatened by habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, hunting for trade and persecution.

Because of their low densities, large home ranges and limited suitable habitat, leopards in the Cape are more threatened than many other leopard populations.

 

Why are leopards important?

Apart from being beautiful, enigmatic creatures that epitomise wilderness, they are also the top (apex) predator in the Cape, and by doing what is necessary to protect leopards, we can simultaneously protect their habitat and all the other animals that inhabit their ecosystem. In this regard the leopard is an umbrella species for conservation. Apex predators such as the leopard play a vital role in ensuring functioning ecosystems.

What are the main threats to Cape leopards?

The main threats to Cape leopards are habitat loss due to urban and agricultural development, and direct persecution in retaliation to livestock losses. An emerging direct and indirect threat to leopard survival is illegal hunting with wire snares. Snares are set to catch small game such as grysbok, duiker and porcupine. Uncontrolled hunting can deplete the natural prey base and therefore impact on the leopards’ ability to find food. Snares are also indiscriminate and therefore leopards too are inadvertently caught in these traps.

Natural threats, especially to cubs, include other predators such as Black Eagles, snakes, disease and malnutrition. Leopards are also known to kill each other when vying for territory, or killing another leopard's cubs when moving into a vacant territory.

How many cubs does a leopard have and how often?

The gestation period is 100 days and there are normally two to three cubs in a litter. If a female is successful in raising young, the inter-birthing period is 18 months to two years. Very little is known about the reproduction of the Cape leopard. It is a very tough environment and from observations in the Cederberg there seems to be a high mortality rate (at least 50%, probably much higher), especially when cubs are in their first few months. Black eagles, baboons and malnutrition are great risks in these early stages.

Even when they are older (juveniles) they are still in danger, especially from other territorial leopards. Until males are about 4 years old, they have to find a way to survive in other dominant males' territories, so they appear to be very careful not to make their presence obvious. The females are ready to breed at about three years.

What do leopards eat?

Leopards are opportunistic and versatile hunters and prey on species ranging from crickets, lizards and rodents to hares, porcupine and even ungulates as large as eland. Typically, they appear to take prey in proportion to availability in a given area.

In the Boland, Cederberg and Little Karoo, diet studies indicate that klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus) and rock hyrax/klipdassie (Procavia capensis) are the main prey species for leopards. Porcupine (Hystrix africaeaustralis) and Cape grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis) are also prominent components of leopard diet in the Boland.

Do leopards eat baboons?

From data collected in the Cederberg, Boland and Gouritz region, it is clear that baboons are comparatively seldom eaten (<5% in diet studies). These would most likely have been opportunistic (picking off old individuals or stragglers that have strayed from the troop), or by an individual who has developed a preference for this dangerous meal. Generally, it is something of a myth that baboons are a leopard's favourite prey item.

Certainly the Cape leopards, with their small builds, would have a tough time taking on a troop of baboons!

What does a leopard track look like?

The first thing is to make sure that a track is indeed a cat track – cats have retractable claws, so you won't see any claw marks in front of the toe pads. They also have two indentations on the back of the main pad, creating three bulges. Then check the size – on firm substrate, a Cape leopard's track is between 6,5cm and 8,5cm from the front of the longest toe to the back of the main pad. The tracks of females are smaller than the tracks of males, and a leopard's front feet are bigger and rounder than its hind feet.

Leopard spoor

Male leopard track, measuring the front paw print

What does a leopard call sound like?

Leopards make a rasping guttural sound very similar to the sound of sawing wood with a hand-saw.

Do leopards live in family groups or in caves?

No. Leopards are solitary, and each individual defends an exclusive territory or home range. They do not “live” in any one place (like caves) for an extended period of time. Instead they find suitable places to sleep as they move through their territory. Male home range sizes in Fynbos habitats average around 250km2, and in the Karoo habitats of the western Cederberg go up to 600km2. Female home range average 120km2. Within a male's home range there will be two or three females.

Where can I get a good photo of a Cape leopard?

There are no professional quality photos of wild Cape leopards that we are aware of. The Cape Leopard Trust has many good leopard photos from camera traps; and although these are not very high resolution images, they do well for small to medium size media printing.

Are the Cape leopards dangerous?

Although one should obviously always be very cautious when encountering any predator, Cape leopards are generally extremely wary of people and will readily retreat – except when threatened or cornered. A Cape leopard sighting is normally only very brief – the leopard will appear as if from nowhere, stand still for a few seconds, and then disappear into the fynbos once more. There are no reports of unprovoked attacks on people in the Western Cape. However, if one were to corner a Cape leopard, or threaten a female's cubs, they could be extremely dangerous.

What must I do if I see a leopard?

In short, hikers, trail runners and mountain bikers need not avoid the Cape mountains where leopards are present. If you encounter a leopard, you should consider yourself extremely fortunate – savour the moment, take a picture, and send us the details of your sighting!

Usually these leopards will move off quickly if they come into contact with people. If you do come across one, the best reaction is to stand still and wait for the cat to move on. Do not run away or crouch down, it may mistake you for prey… If for some reason it does not back away and seems threatening, then a slow retreat without turning your back is the wisest thing to do. Mostly, this sort of antagonistic behaviour is indicative of the cat trying to tell you to push off. Throwing sticks or stones is not advisable unless in final self-defence, since it may provoke an attack.

How can I see a Cape leopard?

Cape leopards are incredibly elusive and very seldom seen. Most sightings are pure chance and luck. That said, if you are in the Cape mountains, keep your eyes and ears open as there are certain indicators that a predator is in the area.

Listen out for birds and animals alarm calling – almost all animals have particular sounds that they make to warn others of the presence of a predator. If you see Black eagles dive-bombing an animal, chances are that they are going for a leopard and you may therefore have a chance of seeing it. Also look out for fresh leopard tracks.

What kind of camera traps do you use?

We mainly use Cuddeback camera traps – digital infrared cameras that are triggered by motion and heat. The Cuddebacks have a very fast trigger time and shutter speed – meaning that the unit will ‘wake up’ almost immediately after being triggered, and then freeze the action in front of the lens with a fast shutter speed. Some cheaper camera makes are slow to wake up and therefore miss a lot of animals.

We prefer white flash camera models, because nighttime photos taken with a white flash are so much clearer and crisper than infrared flash or even covert blackflash photos. We need clear nighttime photos in order to identify individual leopards from their unique rosette patterns.

Where can I get a camera trap?

You can either sponsor one for the CLT, or we can provide you with the details of the company we use.

How do you collar your leopards?

See capture and collaring

How do you stop leopards from killing livestock?

Human-wildlife conflict and damage-causing animals is a complex issue and there is no simple single solution, but there are various methods and ways that can be used in combination depending on the circumstances. We support a holistic strategy of managing livestock instead of trying to manage predators – essentially taking livestock off the predator’s menu. These methods include well-trained Anatolian sheep dogs or livestock guardian dogs, traditional herding, and keeping livestock in adequately fenced predator-proof kraals at night.

For more info download: CapeNature Landowners’ guide: Human-wildlife Conflict

How do you stop people from killing leopards?

Farmers are often put in very difficult situations when it comes to livestock depredation by leopards. However it is vitally important for them to understand how and why they need to protect their livestock and not just trap and kill all predators using unselective and inhumane methods. Merely killing predators such as leopards do not solve the problems in the long term, as new individuals will just move in to take over the vacant territory. All predators fulfil a vital function in our ecosystem – without them, adverse knock-on effects are likely to be experienced. In rare instances, one specific individual leopard may be classified as a ‘problem animal’ and dealt with as such by the authorities. But mostly we try to work with landowners, along with CapeNature, to find viable long-term solutions that are relevant to that particular farm.

How do you fund the project?

The Cape Leopard Trust is a Non-Profit, Public Benefit Organisation, sponsored primarily by corporate funders, trust funds and private donors. To support the Cape Leopard Trust, click here.

What can I do to get involved?

There are numerous ways of getting involved:

Where can I get a Cape Leopard Trust T-shirt or custom CLT Buff?

The Cape Leopard Trust has a variety of merchandise. To see what items we sell, click here

Does the Cape Leopard Trust do talks?

Yes, we are happy to do presentations on the work of the CLT and on the basics of leopard behaviour and ecology (and no, we DON'T bring along a tame leopard!). We do not ask a fee for presentations but we do request that our costs are covered at a minimum charge. Further donations are most welcome. We also do school presentations.

How can I book an education camp?

Please email [email protected] or [email protected]

The Cape Leopard Trust Trapping Techniques

icon no trap Short overview of three trapping methods considered by the Cape Leopard Trust as safe and humane

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