The Cape Leopard Trust - Using research as a tool for conservation & finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict
Tuesday, 17 November 2009 05:37

Cape Leopard Trust Camp – Wupperthal Grade 9

by: Elizabeth Martins

From the 30th October – 1st November the Wupperthal Secondary school grade 9’s joined The Cape Leopard Trust on a camp in the Cederberg, sponsored by the Claremont Rotary Club. The camp was a huge success. Wupperthal is an isolated Moravian settlement in the Northern Cederberg. Willem Titus and I ran the camp. Willem had been a scholar at this school, so had been taught by some of the teachers on the camp. 

The first task on a camp is always setting up the tents. This is not an easy task and one that requires teamwork and physical effort – which is why we have children put up their own tents. Each tent sleeps three, but it is easiest to set up with four. It was interesting to watch as the two groups of boys set up their tents next to each other, and both got to the point of needing another person. A dilemma - everyone else looked busy – until they realised, it’d be easiest if all helped to set up each others tents, which they then did.

After an introduction to the camp, the children were given a number of maps of the area. First they figured out where the cardinal points were and, stretching their imaginations, in which directions lay Wupperthal, Clanwilliam, Citrusdal, and Cape Town. It’s not the easiest thing finding your bearings in a new place. The most challenging part of the map work was understanding a topographical map showing the Wolfberg Cracks, and figuring out the intimidating fact that the walk planned for the following day involved a steep climb of 500m elevation!

That afternoon, we paid a visit to the Stadsaal rock art site followed by exploring the splendid rock formations. One of the boys, Ellen, was handed the CLT camera, and became the “class photographer”, documenting the whole camp. All the photos included here were taken by him – this young man had never held a camera before. The self-conscious teenagers let their barriers down. They loved the wild rock formations and ran around exploring all over. We often heard exclamations of delight.

The day was rounded off with a full-length presentation discussing the animals of the Cederberg and the effects of human encroachment on the natural environement. In-depth details were given on the research techniques used by the Cape Leopard Trust, setting the scene for an investigation of a leopard kill site the following afternoon.

On Saturday morning we started early, so as to do the worst part of the steep climb to the Wolfberg cracks in the shade. It is quite something to stand dwarfed by these massive cliffs. Straining your eyes you can just make out the faint path where you are heading. It takes a deep breath and self-belief to pluck up the courage and start the hike. Half-way up, your legs are wobbling, you are gasping for breath and your heart is beating like it wants to escape. Many of the children wrote in their review that they realised that they have determination and courage. It was the Wolfberg hike that taught them that.

On reaching the base of the high cliffs, the adventure began – through dark tunnels, along steep cliff-edges, through narrow openings, and finally into the heart of the mountain itself.

Being in the Crack is like being in a cathedral and the teacher asked, “Can we sing?” The group stood together (it gives me goosebumps remembering it) and sang in the most beautiful harmonies, honouring the awe-inspiring space.

‘Ek het dit baie geniet om die Wolfberg te klim. Dit was lekker om deur die gatte te kruip.’    - Marishka 
‘Dit was fantasties’ - Nelmari

We were disappointed when we discovered that we could not go all the way through the crack to the top as a stone had just been dislodged and blocked the way. However, it did mean that we had more time to do other things that day.

That afternoon, having had a good rest, everyone piled into to the bakkies in order to locate a leopard kill using existing GPS points, to learn to track animals and to do charcoal drawings of their surroundings.

On the way Willem’s sharp eyes picked out some tracks of water mongoose and genet in the soft sand at a river crossing. As we were looking at them, Willem suddenly noticed that right in front of us were older leopard tracks – the size showed that it was a female’s. It had to be the collared leopard, Spot (F10), who’s territory we were in (and who’s kill we were on our way to find). Many of the children commented in their review that they found it very interesting learning how to tell the difference between a male and female leopard track.

The kill site was about 300m from the dirt track we had followed. The group set off to find it, minding to be on the lookout for snakes. The GPS showed the way to be straight up the mountain. It was the teacher who found it, the remains of a klipspringer that Spot had eaten just a few weeks before.

After returning from the successful research mission, the group was split in two. Half did tracking and visited an infra-red cameratrap site with Willem, while the other half did a charcoal drawing of something from the surroundings. Each child went and found a quiet place to sit and draw. None had drawn with charcoal before and had little experience with art. They became completely engrossed in their artworks, silent and blending into the peace of the late afternoon.    

‘Ek het die beste oor myself gevoel toe ek baie goed gekuns het.’ - Sollenick 
‘Ek het die beste gevoel toe ek ‘n mooi skets gemaak het van Liz se bakkie met die mooi agtergrond.’ - Celeste

In the tracking group they learnt that it was not only the large animals that left tracks, but that all sorts of little creatures left tracks in passing.

‘Ek het die beste oor myself gevoel toe ek die spoor van die muis en die akkedis erken het.’
- Marishka

It was dusk by the time we headed back to the campsite. Just before the turnoff Willem saw something out of the corner of his eye. We reversed to find a male puffadder on the side of the road. We were close enough to see his tongue flickering while trying to smell what or who we were. He then crawled, caterpillar-like across the road in front of us. Once he’d left the scene, everyone got out to have a careful look at the distinctive track left in the sand. To many of the children the puffadder was the most beautiful thing that they had seen on the weekend. This, when the usual response to snakes is to fear them and kill them. To me, it is these experiences and changes in attitude on our camps which make them so valuable.

The following day the children reluctantly packed up, wishing they could have stayed longer. It was great to see how impressed the teachers and scholars were with Willem and the work he is doing with The Cape Leopard Trust. We look forward to having the following Grade 9 group out on a camp again next year.

We wish to thank the Claremont Rotary Club for sponsoring this camp. The Cape Leopard Trust would also like to thank the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust (managed by BoE Private Clients in its capacity as sole Trustee) and Cape Nature for making these camps possible.

The Cape Leopard Trust Trapping Techniques

icon no trapShort overview of three trapping methods considered by the Cape Leopard Trust as safe and humane: Cage traps, Foot loop traps or Foot snares, Soft-catch traps, References to relevant scientific literature.

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