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Catch me if you can!

Catch me if you can!
Published: 27 September 2012

The CLT Boland Project has recently embarked on yet another exciting chapter in their research on Cape leopards (Panthera pardus) in the Boland study area. Jeannie Hayward is currently enrolled for a PhD degree at the University of Cape Town, her study aiming to determine leopard home ranges, diet, feeding habits, and fine-scale habitat use for leopards in the Boland. These data will be used to ascertain the effects of landscape fragmentation, human habitation and habitat alteration on leopard ecology and behaviour, establishing immediate and long-term threats that might be of concern to the species and its habitat. In order to achieve this she needs to fit a number of leopards with GPS radio collars that record the animals’ movements. Capturing Cape leopards certainly is no easy task, and calls for expertise, teamwork, patience and perseverance.

The Boland Project team were joined by Quinton Martins and Jeff Sikich, who are training Jeannie in trapping methods of the highest international standards. Quinton has had almost a decade’s experience researching these cats and was trained by an American expert in carnivore capture. Quinton met Jeff in the USA and was fortunate to see him in action on home soil – (see news item: Born in the USA). His visit was funded by the International Foundation for Animal Welfare (IFAW). He is an expert trapper and works as a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service in America where he researches the impacts of urbanization and habitat fragmentation on pumas (Puma concolor) in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. He has vast experience with trapping carnivores and we’re very grateful to him for sharing his skills and knowledge with us. Many thanks to Oak Cottage Franschhoek for kindly sponsoring Jeff’s accommodation while doing fieldwork in that part of the Boland study area.

Jeff Sikich and Jeannie Hayward hard at work preparing a trap site.

On Saturday night, 15 September, Jeannie was monitoring traps set out only a day before in the Wemmershoek Dam area when she heard the fast beep on the radio receiver indicating a triggered trap. Traps are remotely monitored frequently during the day and night to ensure fast response time after a capture. With great excitement and caution she visually inspected the trap site, and sure enough – the first Boland leopard had been caught! There is no cellphone reception in this remote area, but Jeannie was able to notify her support team immediately with a satellite phone generously sponsored by AST Distribution.

A prompt response by the CLT team and vet saw the animal safely immobilized. It was then fitted with a GPS radio collar, morphometric measurements taken, weighed and biological samples collected. The captured individual was identified as BM4, a male leopard that has frequently been recorded on camera traps in the area. He weighed 29kg, a fairly average size for an adult male Cape leopard in the Fynbos part of the Capeand was in good condition.Using tooth wear to estimate age, it was he was judged to be between seven and nine years old. The capture process went very smoothly, and subsequent data from BM4’s collar indicate that he has recovered well and has been moving around in the Wemmershoek basin.

BM4 has been adopted by Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards – a major sponsor and proud supporter of the CLT since the Trust’s inception in 2004.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank a number of people who have been instrumental in getting the Boland team kitted out for leopard trapping as well as providing them with much needed logistical and technical support. We are very thankful to the City of Cape Town’s management personnel at the Wemmershoek Water Scheme for their continued support of the CLT Boland Project, as well as permission and access to their property. A heartfelt thank you also to Dr. Andrew Gray from the Drakenstein Veterinary Clinic for coming out in the late-night hours to monitor the animal’s wellbeing throughout the capture process. Thanks to Quinton and Jeff for their time, effort and expertise, as well as Pierre van der Spuy for racing out to capture such great photographs.

Shortly after the Boland Project was launched in 2010, the Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa (LCCSA) ‘adopted’ the two Boland coordinators and has since been actively raising funds in support of their research. A proportion of these funds were utilised for hardware and equipment needed for the trapping activities. An LCCSA member has also made his off-road trailer and tent available for use by the researchers while monitoring traps in remote areas.

Having battery-powered equipment out in the field for extended periods of time results in large quantities of batteries that need to be disposed of. Where possible we aim to rather use rechargeable lead-acid batteries. Proper charging and maintenance of these batteries are essential to ensure long-term battery life, and we are very grateful for the sponsorship of a high quality XC 0.8 6V charger and two XS 0.8 12V chargers by CTEK.

Watch this space for more exciting results on the collared Boland leopards!
Boland greetings
Jeannie & Anita

Images Notes

  1. A GPS radio collar is fitted to BM4, an adult male leopard captured near the Wemmershoek Dam.
  2. Some of the equipment bought with LCCSA funds includes digital callipers, a LEDlenser X21 flashlight and a variety of tools!
  3. Lead-acid battery chargers, sponsored by CTEK, is perfect for charging and maintenance of batteries