Cape Town - The weather was chilly but the atmosphere warm as about 150 supporters and staff gathered in the Cederberg this weekend to celebrate a local conservation milestone: the 10th anniversary of the Cape Leopard Trust.
The trust was co-founded in 2004 by former game ranger and zoologist Quinton Martins and Cederberg landowner, conservationist and retired businessman Johan van der Westhuizen.
It aims to conserve the elusive but threatened Cape leopard – the same species as found elsewhere on the subcontinent but smaller - and to find solutions to human-wildlife conflict, especially with livestock predators like leopards and caracal.
During a celebration braai at a Cederberg resort on Saturday evening, Martins said that he had started studying the leopards in 2003 because he was shocked to find out how many were still being killed in the Cederberg.
The Cape leopards are top predators but are described as “small cats with big problems” because of their low population densities, large home ranges and limited natural habitat.
In his ecological assessment that earned him a PhD from UCT, Martins found there were probably no more than 35 adult Cape leopards in his 3 000km2 study area in the Cederberg mountains.
And he told supporters during a field outing to download images from camera traps, from which they estimated there were only about 400 to 450 leopards in the entire Western Cape. Thanking supporters, the trust’s staff and trustees, he described his work over the past decade as “a bit of a journey”.
“You have made it possible for us to have the success we’ve had… Your support over the years has just been amazing.”
The trust’s headquarters are at CapeNature’s Matjiesrivier nature reserve in the heart of the Cederberg where Martins’s original research work was done and where it still runs an active project. Its educational outreach programme includes camps for disadvantaged children.
Since its founding, the trust has also established Cape leopard conservation projects in Namaqualand, the Boland mountains and the Gouritz area of the southern Cape, and it runs or collaborates on research projects on other species like caracal, dassies and the Verreaux’s Eagle (formerly the Black Eagle).
By John Yeld, Cape Argus