The leopards of the Yellowwood Amphitheatre

Jabulani, the first adult male leopard photographed by the Boland team in April 2010
Jabulani, the first adult male leopard photographed by the Boland team in April 2010
Published: 03 December 2013

Over the years the Du Toit’s Kloof mountain range between Paarl and Worcester has become legendary among the rock climbing community for creatures that go growl in the night… There are a few reported sightings – some from a fair distance and at least one a little too close for comfort

Instigated and spurred on by Johann Lanz, a group of climbers pooled together to buy a camera trap* to deploy along the Yellowwood Amphitheatre route. Private individuals (or groups) who deploy and service camera traps in this way make a very valuable contribution to The Cape Leopard Trust’s long-term monitoring data.

During February 2013, Johann, accompanied by his daughter and son, set out to find a good spot for the camera. They decided on a section of the path right against a small cliff. It is ideal to place the camera at a spot where animal traffic is naturally channelled onto narrow path. They pointed the camera towards a leopard scratch post they had found earlier – an old tree with deep gashes caused by leopards scratching to sharpen claws and mark their territory.

cam setup

The set-up team and camera view.

The team returned to the camera in April to download images and replace batteries. One always downloads a memory card with great anticipation, but unfortunately the intrepid ‘citizen scientists’ were only rewarded with a few photos of birds, dassies and climbers… With camera trapping, patience is certainly the proverbial virtue. And so the waiting game continued…

Late in October, Johann returned to the camera once again. He didn’t have very high hopes, since he wasn’t able to visit the camera sooner and was sure that the batteries were dead… To his surprise the camera was still working. He changed the memory card, adjusted the camera angle a little and returned home with his bounty!! After a very long wait, the leopards (yes, plural!!) decided to show themselves, and what a treat it was!

The camera recorded a male leopard called Jabulani (BM1 – Boland Male #1) who was previously identified as part of the Boland Project camera survey. Jabulani had also been photographed near Bain’s Kloof by the Boland team, and was once spotted on Du Toitskloof pass by a member of the public who managed to take a clear picture of him. It was quite interesting to also find him at the Yellowwood Amphitheatre! The camera caught some great action shots of Jabulani, scratching the tree!

michael basset

This image of Jabulani was taken at the top of Du Toitskloof pass in April 2012 by Michael Basset.

jabu scratching

A great shot of Jabulani in action, scratching the tree!

The big delight though, was the photos of a female leopard and young cub. This female had also been recorded previously, but the photos from the Yellowwood camera finally enabled the Boland researchers to get an official identikit for this cat. She has been named Sienna and is referred to as BF16.

mother cub

An endearing photo of mother and cub

cub

BF16’s tiny cub

bf16 scratching

Another scratch photo – this time BF16 sharpening her claws.

It really is remarkable to still have one of the Big 5 roaming free and wild in the Western Cape, a mere few minutes from busy towns and national roads. Leopards have been here since long before the first European settlers reached our shores. These hardy leopards are now surviving on an island of mountain habitat, surrounded by agricultural and rural development. And ever so often they remind us, with a firm growl, of who the mountain territory really belongs to…

For more info about the Boland Project please visit: http://capeleopard.org.za/research/leopard/boland

To enquire about camera purchases, email: boland@capeleopard.org.za

* The Yellowwood camera was made possible by donations from Chris Jansen, Snort / City Rock, Rolfe Eberhard, Douw Steyn, Eve Watson, Adam Roff, Rob Zipplies, Herman van Zyl, Rob McKay, Ant Hall, Roger Diamond, Guy Orlik & Brendan Argent. Thank you.

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