29 JUNE 2010
While 2010 has so far been a mixed bag of success and failure for predator and biodiversity conservation, the Landmark team have been hard at work in their respective areas and finding more ground for leopards, predators and biodiversity conservation.
Since our last newsletter in April 2010 we must sadly update you on the 31st leopard known to be killed in the region, and in this case as a result of a gin trap. In this time a further 6 leopards have additionally been successfully rescued too. We have now rescued 34 leopards, of which 17 leopards have been GPS collared in the Eastern and Western Cape since 2004.
Our team has grown with new field workers allowing us to cover more ground. Livestock protection research trials have extended into the Karoo. Education programs and awareness initiatives have also expanded.
There have been 7 leopard rescues and captures over the last two months.
OUTRAGE! It is indeed an indictment of our conservation policies and South African farming practices that gin traps is still so commonplace. In early June another leopard was caught in a gin trap and died in the Winterhoek Mountains, near Willowmore. The leg hold devices (as the state wish to euphemise them now, or worse still, "soft catch traps", is currently being written into legislation. It is proposed that by placing a bit of cotton wool/rubber on their jaws these traps are now rendered "harmless" and "soft". Sadly nothing could be further from the truth as yet again, we have had to witness the death of a leopard due to these "soft" devices... This leopard is death no 31 that we have had to witness!
This demonstrates the indiscriminate and barbaric nature of these devices.
hese barbaric devices remain an integral part of red meat, wool and mohair production in South Africa. Vote with your wallets when you consider purchasing such products, and support producers that conserve our wildlife and act ethically. Pressure your supermarket to support ecologically friendly and ethical production practices. This cat was a beautiful male leopard probably just over 2 years old, weighing 28 kg's. He was probably a young maturing dispersal leopard, making him even more vulnerable to death by gin-trap as he would be traversing large areas in order to establish a range of his own.
His left paw was caught in the gin-trap and he lost two toes, which fell off his foot as soon as we removed the device. Ironically this was a 'soft gin-trap' (sans the cottonwool) which government wishes to legalise (and rename) as an alternative to "conventional" gin-traps. After initially rescuing the cat, it cardiac arrested twice, with the second event it died after the initial resuscitation succeeded. The cause of death was a combination of hypothermia (it was raining/snowing, and had been in the trap between 24 and 36 hours), shock and stress, and probably in combination with anaesthetic effects in the emergency setting resulting in cardiac arrest. Two veterinarians and a medical doctor attended to the failed rescue.
The area where the cat was killed is adjacent the Baviaanskloof Reserve where research has demonstrated that a population of about 30 - 35 resident leopards remain and that are in all likelihood genetically isolated. This cat would have been a juvenile dispersal individual. The genetic link he would have provided to other isolated populations and has now been destroyed, making it a tragic loss to the population viability in the region. This indiscriminate removal of a healthy, non-problem causing individual in this World Heritage Site region is devastating for leopard conservation efforts. We hear constant unsubstantiated rumours of several more leopards being taken out in the region through gin traps, poisons and hunting dogs â€“ all methods being proposed to be retained in current draft legislation.
The loss of this leopard was difficult to deal with and it is important to remember that this is a reality in our landscape and will remain this way for future generations due to current draft legislation about to go out to public comment where these devices will remain legal instruments of slaughter of our biodiversity. These practices remain an integral part of rangeland red meat, wool and mohair production.
Consumers have the power to change this through their actions at supermarket tills.
We call on all
parties interested this matter to send the protest messages to the person
responsible for drafting of the legislation/regulations:
Ask them to specifically prohibit the use of gin traps, leg hold devices, soft catch traps, poisons, and hunting dogs as a means to try to manage damage causing animals in all impending legislative standards and regulations. Request that all damage causing animal actions become subject to permitted conditions.
Once the draft norms and standards in relation to damage causing animals are published for public comment, we will issue a reminder to comment.
Don't stop putting pressure on government and the agricultural sector to stop these ecologically damage and ethically unacceptable production practices. Despite years of request, no retailer has to date commited to stocking produce that is free of these practices. You can contact meat, wool an mohair retailers such as Woolworths, P'nP, Spar, Checkers, Shoprite and Fruit and Veg to stock predator and biodiversity friendly meat and animal fibre products so that you know you support producers who use wildlife friendly means of predator controls (see more at www.fairgame.org.za).
Another recent and bizarre rescue followed the events described above. Following the disappointment on the loss of the male leopard, we got a call from Cape Nature of a leopard capture in Heidelberg under unusual circumstances. A male leopard had chased a baboon into a tree, and they both fell from the tree into an empty water reservoir about 8 meters deep. Neither could escape. The leopard ate the baboon, but could not then get out of the reservoir. The veterinarians from Riversdale were able to assist us with the capture. The leopard was sedated and once he was fully asleep was lifted out of the reservoir.
Once the leopard was safely on the ground, we could assess his condition. We kept him warm with hot-water bottles while we got DNA and morphological data before collaring him and releasing him. The fully grown adult leopard (about 40 kg's) was released back onto the farm with a GPS collar. We look forward to tracking this cat and getting to know the Heidelberg area and its residents.
On the 5th June, a beautiful sub-adult male leopard was captured in a Knysna forest. At 23 kg's he was not fully grown and thus we didn't collar him, but we did obtain important morphological data and DNA. By comparing his size to his counterparts in the area, he still has another approximate 20 kg's to grow, and is probably only about 18 months old! We will continue to capture and collar leopards in the forest in order to better understand them. Thanks to Dr. Brendan Tindall for his assistance.
An adult female was captured and collared in the Baviaanskloof on the 28th May. She was a fully grown adult of 23 kg's (average weight of adult females in the region). Thanks to Dr. Martin Bootsma who again assisted with the darting of the animal, and the farmers in the Baviaanskloof who are living alongside these amazing creatures.
A juvenile leopard was captured and released without darting in the Baviaanskloof Reserve early in May. It was not possible to determine the sex of the youngster, but it is in excellent condition. We estimate it weighed in the region of 16kg's and is approximately 6-8 months old. Special thanks to Gavin Shaw and his staff for managing this cage for us daily.
Bi-annual project update
The research and extension work area has expanded its range and has now grown to an area of over 40000km2! (4 million hectares!) This is an extremely large area stretching from Port Elizabeth in the east and presently to Heidelberg in the west, and north to Middleburg. With the expansion of the project area, the Landmark Team has also grown:
The Karoo Research:
Dr. Anna Haw is a qualified veterinarian undertaking her Masters in Science Extending the project into the Karoo districts of Nieu Bathesda, Middleberg, Jansenville, Prince Albert and Victortia West, Anna is gathering information on how herd health is related to livestock mortality and predation. Farmers are also being supplied with predator deterrents such as guarding dogs, alpacas (animal closely related to lama's), jackal and ultrasonic alarms, and different livestock collars to deter predation to livestock. Since the astonishing results of the preliminary study (see below under management) this study is being implemented to test the efficacy and economic impact of various non-lethal predator control methods on small stock farms over large areas, and against lethal controls. The ultimate goal is to identify methods of farming which are ethically acceptable and environmentally friendly while also ensuring improved production percentages are achieved by livestock farmers. This is key to ensuring a healthy environment and creating biodiversity-friendly areas outside of protected areas of South Africa.
The Eastern and Western Cape:
Jeannine McManus (PhD student) has been joined in her research efforts by Alex Braczkowski (Nature Conservation Student) in the Cockscomb, Kouga and Baviaanskloof Mountains, De Tsitsikama Mountains, the Garden Route and Langeberge areas.
Leopards are showing varying degrees of range size requirements from 60 000 hectares in the mountainous Baviaanskloof to 10 000 hectares in the Southern Cape forests. Leopards are limited by suitable space as they are very territorial and males show negligible degrees of home range overlap while females are strictly territorial, not allowing other females within the area. Females ranges are typically covered by only one male, but several females may fall within one males range. The population size in the Baviaanskloof mountains (300 000 hectares) is merely 30 â€“ 35 adult leopards, while in the Garden Route leopard populations may be as low as between 22 â€“ 26 adults! They show a major preference for utilising forest habitats to the exclusion of other habitats. With merely 60 000 hectares of indigenous forests remaining in the Garden Route, of which much of this is already fragmented into tiny patches, leopards are in need of conservation and our research is providing important information to managers and policy makers. It is suspected that habitat fragmentation has largely isolated these populations (Baviaanskloof and Garden Route) and with the small remaining populations these animals are genetically in a bottleneck. Finding corridor connections between populations for their genetic viability is critical to their survival locally.
Each of the areas offer different threats and advantages to the leopards and we are currently investigating population density and dynamics, corridors connecting potentially isolated leopard populations, diet and hunting behaviour within different areas. From scat (leopard droppings) we are finding that bushbuck make up an important component of leopards diet in forests, while in the Baviaanskloof area, they seem to be slightly more opportunistic, eating animals such as mountain reedbuck to dassies and birds.
On the 31 May we photographed the female in the Wilderness forest who was collared in September 2009 with her latest offspring. The cub is probably about 2 months old and at this stage seems to be without siblings. From our GPS data we noticed the female's movements were different to normal in April 2010: she spent most of the month moving back and forth to the same location (going hunting and returning back to the cub). At early ages cubs do not stay with the female all the time and she left for up to 36 hours at a time. We thought that she could have a cub due to these movements and got confirmation from the camera traps!
While this photo was enough to get the team excited, a few days after it was taken a cow had died due to old age nearby. When the carcass was found, the farmer, he noticed that the animal had been scavenged on. We arranged for cameras to be set up at the carcass. The results were outstanding. We captured the female leopard and some bush pigs foraging on the carcass over the first few days and after nearly a week...the female leopard with her cub! Well Done Glenwood School Eco-Club (see more under Eduction) who are managing this camera! This is probably the first time the cub has eaten meat.
We will keep a close eye on both of these individuals, as the first 3 months of a cubs life is the most difficult and its chances of surviving to adulthood is doubled after 6 months old. None- the-less the chances of survival is usually merely 40 â€“ 50 % within the first 12 months (Sunquist and Sunquist 2002).
In the Baviaanskloof we identified a river willow (Combretum) with fresh scratch marks from leopard so we placed a camera there in order to obtain some idea on who is marking and what kind of effect this may have on other leopards and animals walking past. We captured a big male in the Baviaanskloof marking the tree.
A gorgeous photo was taken of an uncollared male in the Knysna forest drinking from a pool of water. This one was too spectacular not to share. He neighbours one of the collared males in the area and we hope to collar him soon.
Management: Results from research
Emerging research indicate that the use of non-lethal predator control (guard animals, deterrents and aversive stimuli) reduce livestock losses more effectively than lethal control methods (hunting, gin-traps, poisons). Results from 12 farms and the monitoring of 16100 livestock in the Eastern Cape (Graaff Rienet, Jansenville, Cockscomb and Baviaanskloof areas) indicate improvements in livestock production from 53 â€“ 97% when lethal controls were replaced by non-lethal controls (McManus, J and Macdonald, D, in prep). This benefits biodiversity on farmlands and ensures farmers are more productive simply by working with nature.
Education and Awareness:
Kate Muller has initiated and developed the education program over the last year. This has involved school children, the agricultural sector and the general public. Kate has visited many schools in the Eastern and Western Capes. We have engaged over 1500 scholars to date, spending lots of time in classrooms and in the field with classes from Gr 0 to Gr 12 educating them about leopards, other predators and biodiversity conservation and explaining how students can help conservation. The students were enthralled and eager to help. After the talks some of the students became creative and made striking art works showing their respect for nature and their will for conserving their heritage! A key message in the education drive is that everyone plays part in conservation. Some scholars have taken this to heart and have started their own research using cameras in the field. They are also running awareness and fundraising activities to assist leopard and predator conservation.
Art for Conservation is running again this year! Above are some of the entries we received from 2009's "Leopard Art".If you would like Kate and the team to visit your school please contact her on 082 462 8598 / email: email@example.com for a full outline of what the program offers.
Spreading the Word
We have started erecting information boards at key sites, like Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre in The Crags to reach a wide public audience on the issues. These boards cover lethal control and its effects, non-lethal management and an outline of the work Landmark is doing. (Picture by K. Muller)
Release of an exclusive Leopard T-shirt Range is coming to Billabong outlets on 1st July 2010. Get yours now and support leopard conservation in fashion. Visit http://www.billabong.com/girls/za/ and follow the change your spots link.
Racing for Leoaprds in the Trans-Baviaans 24hr Mountain Bike Challenge. Get your cycling gear from Landmark Foundation and join the race to save leopards. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to place your orders.
Leopard crawl trail has been set up in Wilderness by Mark Dixon of Garden Route Trails. Visit www.gardenroute.co.za trails.co.za.
Thank you to all our sponsors who are caring for biodiversity. Our work would be impossible without you. Recent support have come from Eden District Municipality, Deutsche Bank Foundation, Mones Michaels Trust, Abax Foundation and National Lotteries Distribution Trust Fund.
Do Want to help?
We run an expensive project and are always grateful to receive assistance with our endeavours. We are a registered charitable Trust (a NGO) and are registered with the Department of Social Development and as a tax exempt entity with SARS. We can thus provide a TAX exemption/deductible certificate on any cash donations made.
Should you want to assist us in other ways feel free to contact us directly:
by: Dr Bool Smuts,
Director Landmark Foundation