Leopard Group Includes Mossel Bay Property in its Studies

The Cape Leopard Trust has installed a camera trap on Mossel Bay’s Bonniedale Holiday Farm as part of its work to track and study the Province’s most important predator species.

“We’ve been running surveys in the Gamkaberg and the Swartberg since October 2007, and in the Cedarberg since 2004,” said the Trust’s founder, Quinton Martins.

“Throughout the mountain areas, the surveyed population is quite low, so the fact that there is only so much sustainable habitat is obviously of concern.”

Mr. Martins, who spent ten years in the safari industry before beginning his studies, is currently preparing his PhD thesis which aims “to provide a broad understanding of leopard populations in the Cape mountains, their home ranges, and their diet.
“The leopard is the apex species in the Western Cape,” he said. “Without it, the effects could be dire, and you can imagine the knock-on effects it would have on the ecosystem if they were wiped out.

“The need to preserve leopard and their habitat has an effect on managing human-wildlife interactions, and therefore, of course, on the tourism industry.

“The leopard is a charismatic species that has the ability to attract people’s attention. It only occurs in certain wilderness areas, and even though you barely ever see them, the mere fact that they exist – and that you might experience through seeing their spoor – adds to the attraction of an area.”

He said that the Cape Leopard Trust provided scholarships to a number of students, and that Rhodes University PhD candidate Gareth Mann was studying leopard movement and activity in the Gamkaberg and Swartberg areas.

“I’m trying to identify their core areas, and how they move between areas – and hopefully this information will eventually inform decisions regarding the establishment of movement corridors and priority areas for conservation,” said Mr. Mann.

Conservation Student Aneri Vlok said that the cameras had helped to positively identify seventeen individuals in the Gouritz area – a broad corridor of land surrounding the Gouritz River, which runs from the Swartberg Mountains and into the Indian Ocean just west of Mossel Bay.

“We have 15 stations in this region, with some on private land – like the one at Bonniedale – and some on state land that’s managed by CapeNature – like the ones on the adjacent Gamkaberg Nature Reserve and in the Gamkaskloof (Die Hel – which forms part of the Swartberg Nature Reserve),” she said.

The cameras are triggered when animals move across their infra-red beams, so, she said, “suddenly we have data on all kinds of species in this area.

“The discovery of bushpig was a surprise in one area, and in Matjiesvlei a farmer was surprised to learn that he had kudu on his land,” she said – although many other seldom seen animals – like aardvark, aardwolf, and honey badgers – have also been pictured by the cameras.

She said that the camera that had been installed on Bonniedale had been up for about 3 weeks, and that it would be serviced for the first time in another two to three weeks’ time.

Cape Nature’s Tom Barry is based at the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve – which lies just north of Bonniedale – and was instrumental in choosing the farm as the site for a camera.

“Nico Hesterman (Bonniedale’s owner) had mentioned that he’d seen brown hyena in the area, and we thought it might be a good idea to set up a camera there in combination with our study to try and see if we could get pictures of them and the leopard,” he said.

Brown hyena are generally thought to have last been seen in the area between a hundred and a hundred and fifty years ago, and, said Mr. Barry, “if we can pick up a breeding population in the area, it would be interesting to know about it.”

Mossel Bay Tourism’s Marcia Holm said that the Trust’s work was exciting for the town’s tourism industry because it highlighted the broad spectrum of attractions in the Mossel Bay, Garden Route, and Klein Karoo areas.

“Many people still associate Mossel Bay with beach holidays, and while our beaches rate amongst our most popular attractions, there is so much more to do in the Mossel Bay region – like exploring the mountains that are the home of the Cape leopard,” she said.

“Mossel Bay is presently running a campaign to attract South Africans during this year’s World Cup, and our experience is that local visitors are often much more adventurous when it comes to getting out onto the back roads and visiting places like Bonniedale.

“The Trust’s work therefore serves to highlight the rewards that you could enjoy in the wilderness areas surrounding Mossel Bay,” she said – while Mr. Martins stressed that leopards were definitely not a threat to people.

“As predators go, leopards are relatively small,” he said.

More information:
Cape Leopard Trust www.capeleopard.org.za
Bonniedale www.bonniedale.com
Mossel Bay www.visitmosselbay.co.za

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