Camera trapping in the Little Karoo – striped horses, leopard tortoises and spotted cats!

Published: 03 April 2023

The Cape Leopard Trust Research team is thrilled to report that our large-scale survey of the Little Karoo was successfully completed at the end of 2022, with some fantastic photo captures obtained from the camera grid. The survey consisted of 64 paired camera stations distributed across ± 2000 km2 of mosaic Succulent Karoo landscape – including protected areas like the Swartberg, Gamkaberg and Ruitersbos Nature Reserves, commercial farms, and communal land.

The CLT team is currently sifting through the more than 87 000 photos with the help of WildID – a fantastic online machine learning programme that semi-automates the process of identifying and labelling the species in each of these images. Initial results from the survey indicate good species diversity with at least 40 mammal species recorded – mostly native wild species like aardvark, aardwolf, honey badger, black-backed jackal and mountain reedbuck, as well as a number of re-introduced and non-native game species like giraffe, nyala, impala and waterbuck. Some interesting finds include a brown hyena, Cape Mountain zebra, several leopard tortoises and a water mongoose. As usual, the cameras also recorded several bird species, including ostrich, Southern black korhaan, helmeted guineafowl, Cape spurfowl, hadeda, Egyptian goose and even a female Cape shelduck with chicks!

After 20 weeks of data collection, the survey recorded leopards at 47 of the 64 camera locations – an encouraging success rate of 73%. Using the pattern recognition software of African Carnivore Wildbook and observer confirmation by eye, the just over 600 leopard images are currently being inspected to individually identify leopards – 37 different cats have been identified so far. These identikits were also compared to photos from previous surveys conducted in 2012 (by the CLT) and 2017 (by Panthera). Encouragingly, eight of the leopards recorded in 2017 were photographed again in 2022, and to our delight, one male and one female leopard were detected across all three surveys! These two cats were both likely young adults in 2012, which puts their estimated age at over 12 years old now. This is impressive, considering that on average, African leopards live between 12-15 years, often with significantly lower life spans for animals living outside of protected areas where there often are more threats to their survival.

Once completed, the information about which individuals were photographed at different sites on specific dates will be analysed to derive an accurate estimate of current leopard population density in the region. This estimate will be compared to previous estimates from 2012 and 2017, which will enable us to track changes in the Little Karoo leopard population over time, and to inform any necessary conservation interventions in partnership with the local community and conservation organisations.

The Little Karoo fieldwork was conducted in collaboration with CapeNature, who assisted our team with a huge amount of logistical support as well as staff accommodation at Gamkaberg. Twenty-six private landowners also partook in the survey and granted us support and access to their land – to each of them we are very thankful. A special thank you to The Retreat at Groenfontein, Die Poort Private Nature Reserve, Aristata Seweweekspoort and Rooiberg Lodge for supporting the project with reduced cost accommodation! We are also enormously thankful to Ford Wildlife Foundation for our sponsored Ranger, and to the Land Cruiser Club – Southern Africa for keeping Witblitz the Cruiser in tiptop shape. Reliable off-road vehicles are an indispensable part of field-based research.

The CLT's research in the Little Karoo is made possible by funding from Jamma International.

Please enjoy this showreel of highlight photos from the Little Karoo below!