“Those ‘road closed’ signs are only meant for normal cars”, I reassured Brenda and Sandile, the two students who were accompanying me on the trip into Gamkaskloof to check on the camera traps that we’d set up all the way back in April. I had originally planned to return in mid June, but had failed to take the school holidays into account, and our trip earlier in July had to be aborted after heavy rains caused part of the road to be washed away. So there was no way that I was going to allow somewhat sub-optimal roads to further delay the trip.
The aforementioned, ‘road closed’ signs were still disconcertingly prominent at the base of the Swartberg Pass, but we proceeded cautiously up the pass, eventually gaining ‘Die Top’, with its stunning views over the Little Karoo. Our progress into Gamkaskloof itself was punctuated by frequent stops at the various camera sites that we’d set up at sites close to Kliphuisvlei and other areas along the Elandspad. We were pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the unusually long period between checks, at least one camera at each site was still active (and at this point let me once again thank Energizer for providing us with such a fantastic product).
It was late afternoon when we finally arrived at the CapeNature office at Ouplaas and were greeted by Martin and Elmarie Botha, the couple who manage the Gamkaskloof reserve. We were privileged to stay in ‘Lenie Marais’, another of the historic farmhouses which has been recently refurbished following a fire that gutted the house in 2009. Incredibly, the entire house was gutted apart from one bedroom where the bed and bible on a bedside table were the sole items to escape undamaged. Maybe there really is something to the numerous ghost stories about Gamkaskloof that populate local folklore?
Of course, we were there for ghosts of another variety; spotted ones with a near-supernatural ability to appear and disappear at will. Leopards are also part of Gamkaskloof folklore, and our camera traps showed that they continue to haunt the kloof. We set up camera traps at 12 locations in April, and I’m delighted to say that we photographed leopards at 10 of these.
One of these leopards was an old friend, ‘Kishwan’ (GM5) – adopted by The Douglas Lederle Memorial Fund, had last been photographed in Gamkaskloof in 2010, so it was great to see that he is still in the area and looking fat and healthy! Kishwan appears to be occupying the western part of Gamkaskloof, and was also photographed at Boplaas to the west of the kloof. He does not appear to venture out of Gamkaskloof into the Elandspad area, where another (presently unnamed) male holds sway. We got photos of several different leopards at the various sites, and are currently in the process of identifying the photos to see whether we have recorded these leopards at any of our other camera sites.
Our trip out of Gamkaskloof became somewhat trickier due to an unfortunately-timed snowfall on the Swartberg Mountains on the night before we were due to depart. The last 10km of the road back to the Swartberg Pass were lined with snow, which made the gorgeous landscape all the more spectacular. Fortunately the roads themselves were covered with slush rather than the dangerous black ice that can sometimes make the Pass incredibly treacherous.
After a brief stop and snowball fight at the top of the Pass, we were able to head down to the more temperate conditions at lower altitudes and reflect on a very successful trip. It was not a surprise to find so much leopard activity in Gamkaskloof, which after all lies at the heart of one of the largest contiguous patches of leopard habitat in the Western Cape. Nevertheless, it was extremely gratifying to see that they do appear to be thriving in the area. It is our goal to ensure that they continue to do so!