Removing roadblocks to leopard conservation

Published: 04 May 2021

Seeing leopards in the mountains of the Western Cape is certainly not a common occurrence, but if you had to choose a place to spend hours waiting to spot one, Bainskloof would be a good choice. The mountains surrounding the narrow historical pass are wild and untamed and still harbour healthy populations of klipspringer, rock hyrax and porcupine – making this region prime leopard country.

Since late 2020, Bainskloof Pass has been closed to traffic due to an extensive road upgrade project. Now instead of motorists, hundreds of workers spend their days and nights along this quiet stretch of the mountainside, constructing the road and manning the stop/go access points. Over the past few months, we have received a few reports of leopards being spotted by these workers. These sightings do not imply that there are now more leopards in Bainskloof – it can simply be explained by a high number of human observers now being almost constantly present in an area where leopards are known to roam.

But while the idea of working in an area inhabited by leopards may be thrilling to some, for many this is a very big concern – a fear mostly borne out of a lack of knowledge and understanding of these elusive big cats. For this reason, the Cape Leopard Trust was approached by Baseline*, the construction company in charge of the Bainskloof upgrade, and invited to visit their site and speak to all of the people working in the pass about leopards. In April, our team addressed over 180 workers in various small groups, showing them camera trap photos of the individual leopards that we have identified in the Bainskloof area, chatting about leopard habits and behaviour and explaining how to react when you see a leopard in different situations.

We hope and trust that this outreach and awareness-raising helped to quell some fears and rectify misconceptions, while also instilling an appreciation for the unique opportunity to see these shy cats in their pristine mountain habitat. We would like to thank Baseline for taking a proactive approach by contacting us, and for making the time and effort to host our team for the information sessions.

*Baseline Civil Contractors (Pty) Ltd is a dynamic contracting company, which has been servicing the civil and building construction industry for more than 30 years