Cape leopard recorded in Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy

Posted on 18 March 2020

The Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy (WBFC) has shared footage of a dominant female leopard, called Lumka, that was recorded on its camera traps. The Cape Leopard Trust shared the footage to their social media platforms. Cape leopards are not often seen as there are so few in the Cape Mountains.

The video footage was shared to the Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) by Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy on Tuesday 17 March and shows the animal scratching and marking trees.

According to CLT, there is no certain figure of the Cape leopard population. Their website states that. ‘Data from recent leopard studies in three distinct mountain areas suggest that there are fewer than 1,000 leopards in the Western Cape.’

Due to the small population, these animals rely on ‘chemical communication’ to inform other leopards of their presence, their health or strength and if they’re fit for reproducing. ‘The volatile chemical compounds in urine, scat and glands can persist for weeks and will thus remain present at a marking site long after the marking animal had left,’ said Cape Leopard Trust.

‘Leopards are creatures of habit and will mark the same trees and bushes while patrolling well-worn trails. Generally, large enough trees are few and far between in the fynbos habitats of the Western Cape. But the forested valleys of Walker Bay provide ample scratch posts – and afford researchers a rare opportunity to catch this marking behaviour described on the video.’

‘This chemical (or olfactory) communication in leopards is mainly achieved through scent-marking and scent-rubbing. Scent-marking involves tree scratching and spray-urinating (spreading the urine as high and wide as possible) on trees and big bushes and at scrape sites.

‘By rubbing against something a chemical signature would also be left behind. Interestingly, a leopard scent rubbing with glands on the head and cheeks will do it high as possible to try and amplify their height or size.’

At the end of the video, the leopard calls out. This sound is made to either attract a mate or as a territorial call to threaten competition of the same sex, according to Cape Leopard Trust.

The Grootbos Foundation team, the driver of this project, have established a camera trap wildlife monitoring project aimed at surveying the larger animals occurring within the region, connecting with new landowners to expand our conservation footprint, and identify high priority conservation areas.

Michael Fabricius from Walker Bay Conservancy Trust said: ‘Leopards have served as a good indicator species within this project, due to their appropriate sized home-ranges, and unique pelage markings. Camera traps can take high quality images of the rosette patterns of the leopards allowing one to identify individuals and make estimates on home-ranges, breeding success and assist landowners experiencing conflict with predators.’

In regard to the Cape leopard population, he said: ‘The identity kits acquired over a three year period have indicated that 12 individuals have been detected, of these 7 are considered resident due to numerous detections, however leopard home-ranges are fluid and shift over time.’

Cape leopards are extremely elusive animals and the treats to these species include habitat loss due to agriculture and urban development.

In the past, farmers would use lethal control methods to keep the animals from attacking livestock but are now rather using preventative measures.

‘Another threat to our native species is the usage of snares in the bushmeat trade. Snares are set on wildlife pathways and are capable of capturing many species including leopards.

‘The loss of apex predators in a landscape can result in ecosystems imbalances that have top-down effects right down to river systems and water quality, much like the case of the wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park, USA.

‘Information gathered and interactions with landowners and the general public have shown to improve knowledge and allow for informed conservation decisions. We aim to connect protected areas in the landscape with a network of conservation corridors, and secure a safe environment for our plant and wildlife species to persist,’ concluded Fabricius.


Image: Screenshot from Facebook video

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