Leopard News December 2007

Published: 21 December 2007

With leopard cage traps designed by Cape Nature’s Jaco van Deventer and built (& sponsored) by FlexiPave, we have targeted a number of leopards to collar in the Cederberg in order to fulfil the requirement of a statistically significant sample size - a minimum of six adult males and six adult females within the study area. We have had 9 leopard captures this year alone. Two females and three males were collared and one male (Johan) was re-collared. Most recently, we captured an adult male (M11) in Houdini’s area.

We last had signs of this charismatic cat (adopted by EcoAire’s Peter Turnbull) on the 28th May. He was fortunate enough to have his territory located in the Cederberg Conservancy for the two years we tracked him and where there were no chances of him being killed by any farmers. However, M11, after reviewing recent GPS data, looks to have taken over the whole of Houdini’s range, making it almost a certainty that Houdini is either dead, or has been kicked out of his area where we have no contact with his collar.

Quinton, Willem & vet Dr van der Merwe with M11
Quinton, Willem & vet Dr van der Merwe with M11

Quinton has over the past couple of months done a considerable amount of leopard tracking on foot, some of which has been filmed for various television documentaries. Tracking leopard in the Cederberg is exceptionally difficult, and this was the case when he tracked the collared female leopard “Amber” (adopted by Ian & Elizabeth Graham) at Bushmanskloof Wilderness Reserve. A French film production company had come to film this. Just as they got within range of possibly having a glimpse of this stunning cat, she crawled into the deep, dark recess of a cave. A scorching sun, and little chance of her peeping out, meant the team packed up and were treated to a well-deserved beer at the lodge.

To ‘Hel’ and Back
October started out with the entire CLT team taking the long drive to Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, a Cape Nature reserve located 35km outside of Oudtshoorn, to investigate expanding the project to this area. The reserve manager, Tom Barry, and his field rangers were very friendly and enthusiastic and seemed more than willing to put in the overtime required from our work. Suitable sites were found for infra-red cameras in order to investigate leopard densities in this fabulous mountain region of the Little Karoo.

Cameras were set up in Gamkaberg Nature Reserve as well as Gamkaskloof / Die Hel. The drive to Die Hel from the Swartberg Pass is only 50km long, but takes two hours. The main reason for this is not that the roads are dangerously poor but that the scenery is so beautiful one wouldn’t want to drive fast in case you miss something. We stayed in the Lenie Marais cottage, one of the original houses in Die Hel, restored to its former glory. Stunning! This is something everyone should be able to experience at some stage.

We have since been informed that our cameras have captured photographs of four individual leopards – two in Gamkaberg and two leopards (one male, and one female) in Die Hel. Thanks to Tom, Tony, Martin and the field rangers for making us feel so welcome and for your support of the project! This was an e-mail from a very excited Tom to Quinton after another leopard was identified:

Hey Quintie
2nd Cat from Die Hell
Way se jy my broer.
Exiting stuff, Tony is beside himself.
Cheers,
Tom (9/11/2007)

This is what Nature Conservation is about – thrilling stuff! The passion is so obvious and infectious. Quinton will be heading out that way again this month to survey the area on foot more comprehensively for about 3 weeks – he is happily not expecting to be in phone contact for most of this time.

Leigh Potter will be based at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve from early January, and will be hoping to secure further sponsorship for this new and exciting project. Please do not hesitate to contact us in this regard: [email protected]

Leigh and a couple of CLT volunteers will be present at an outdoor exhibition in George for 3 days beginning on the 10th of January. If you are in the area, stop by and meet the team.

Meerkats, meerkats and more meerkats!
While visiting the Swartberg/Gamkaberg Corridor, the CLT team were fortunate enough to get a chance to experience some “Meerkat Magic”!

Grant McIlrath aka the Meerkat Man, has been researching meerkats in the wild since 1993 and has started a meerkat conservation initiative called Meerkat Magic, just outside Oudtshoorn. This initiative gives you the opportunity to observe wild meerkats as they continue with their daily routine – like a personal live documentary!

At 6am on the morning of the 16th of October, Grant directed us to where we would be watching the meerkats and gave us strict instructions on how to behave when the they emerge from the burrow system. We all sat on scent-marked chairs awaiting the arrival of what Grant has nicknamed “the forecaster”. This individual is the first to emerge from the burrow and will look around and then disappear back into the burrow where it will feed back information to the group, which then decides whether or not they are going to emerge that day. Luckily for us, the news was good! Slowly the rest of the group emerged and started sunning themselves. Grant reassures them that we are harmless through a series of sounds, with which he used to habituate them. He has habituated several groups of meerkats, each with their own unique sounds.

Soon after the last member has arrived, we start following the group as they begin foraging. It is a truly amazing experience to be able to observe and follow these wild animals. None of the animals has ever been fed, captured or handled in any way and all proceeds from the tours go to conserving their habitat, training of local community members for help with the work and towards subsidies for farmers to conserve rather than farm.

This is truly a unique conservation initiative, with a very strong conservation message generated by Grant, who is unbelievably passionate about this conservation struggle. We would recommend this trip to anyone visiting the area.

Thanks to Tom for organising the outing and to Grant for a truly memorable experience. For more information on Grant’s work or to book a tour, visit their website www.meerkatmagic.com or contact Grant directly on +27 82-413-6895 / +27 44-272-3077 or email him at [email protected]

Felid Biology & Conservation Conference – Oxford University, U.K
Quinton was one of 300 world wild cat specialists invited to present at this extraordinary felid conference in September. This is what he had to say about it:

“It was Awesome! What an amazing experience listening to and meeting some of the world’s guru’s in wild cat research and conservation. Part of the conference was held in the magnificent Oxford University Museum of Natural History, with dinosaur fossils and Charles Darwin’s “Beagle” expedition collection at hand, I was totally overwhelmed. The building alone with its neo-Gothic architecture was enough to take ones breath away. To top it all was being able to listen to speakers such as the legendary George Schaller – a humble person who has contributed in the most phenomenal way to conserving wild animals, as well as being taken by the eloquence of speakers such as David Macdonald. So it was no surprise that I was a tad nervous when it was my turn to give a talk. My presentation was well received, and I felt especially pleased that the chairman of this session was one of Africa’s great conservationists – Laurie Marker of Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Among some of the great South African cat researchers and predator specialists attending were Gus Mills and Paul Funston.

While in the UK, I also managed to catch up with my PhD supervisor at Bristol University, Prof Steve Harris. With his guidance and lots of help from fellow researchers in the Bristol Mammal Research Unit (Graciella, Carl & Janosch especially) – I left feeling that my PhD is well on track and that the resulting thesis which I hope to have completed in just under 2 years from now, will provide the most comprehensive understanding of the ecology of leopards in the Cape mountains.”

Polaris Capital Sponsor’s Weekend at Bakkrans
The weekend of the 24-26 August was spent with one of our major sponsors - Polaris Capital. We spent the weekend at Bakkrans Private Nature Reserve, owned by Johan van der Westhuizen.  The weather was great and on the Saturday we took the opportunity to walk around the reserve and see some of the camera-trapping sites. On Sunday, we all piled into a game drive vehicle and went exploring. The area is truly beautiful and one feels privileged to live in such a diverse country. Ian McCallum and Quinton hosted the group and knowledge was imparted on all things ecological, from tracking to stargazing. We even had the opportunity of seeing Anthony and Caroline Sedgwick crawling around like leopards in front of the camera trap as well as listening to many entertaining stories around the camp fire.

The Adventures of Willem Titus (CLT field assistant)
About the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve field rangers - by Willem:
“In the first place I have to say that it was very good for me to meet the field rangers from the Gamkaberg. They are very nice people and it was good to see the field ranger’s work together as a team, as I enjoy team work.

Our Leopard Trust team and the field rangers worked together well and it was easy for me to make friends with these guys. Some of the rangers are so funny. I like Connie, the zebra man, Oom Jan, Johnny “Depp” and all the other guys. All the field rangers got a chance to go out with the Leopard team. Every morning our team would go tracking and check all the camera traps and leopard cage traps.

When we caught something in the cage Oom Jan said that “Neef”, meaning a baboon, was sitting in the cage. The first 2 days Quinton, Leigh and I showed the field rangers how to set camera traps. We set up 10 camera traps in 2 days in Gamkaberg Nature Reserve. I then taught the guys how to use the Cybertracker. On our last day, Quinton showed the field rangers what the Cybertracker data looked like and gave them each a CLT T-shirt. I think, from my side, that the field rangers enjoyed working with the Cape Leopard Trust as much as we enjoyed working with them. Thanks”

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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