In 2010 the Kariega Leopard Research Project was launched by the Kariega Foundation, in conjunction with the Kariega Conservation Volunteer Programme, and in collaboration with the Centre for African Conservation Ecology of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.
Leopards in the Lower Albany Area: population status and the role of Kariega Game Reserve as a key habitat refuge.
The Cape Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is a sub-species of the African Leopard found only in sub-Saharan Africa. However, genetic research shows that the Eastern Cape population should be regarded as a genetic unit, not to be mixed with leopards elsewhere.
Leopards have been persecuted in the Eastern Cape for the last three hundred years, placing the local population at risk of extinction. Those that have miraculously survived have done so only in the most isolated of areas, and sightings in the last few decades have been close to negligible.
Despite this, the thrilling reality is that we continue to experience greater and more frequent signs of leopard activity on Kariega Game Reserve, together with some sightings. Leopards are now legally protected and the general landscape is more leopard-friendly. In addition to state-owned conservation areas, an increased number of private game reserves has greatly expanded the amount of protected land. As one of the oldest private game reserves, Kariega has helped in providing refuge for the Cape Leopard, and is proud to form part of the vast and ever-expanding area of protected land in the Eastern Cape.
The recent leopard activity is hugely exciting for Kariega and validates the decision not to introduce leopard from other regions. The common African Leopard is larger than the Cape Leopard and as a result dominates our species in a shared environment. As such, the introduction of the African Leopard into the area would have prevented the recovery of Cape Leopard populations.
Kariega Game Reserve is blessed to incorporate both the Bushman’s and Kariega river valley eco-systems, which sports dense bushveld as well as rocky outcrops. This type of terrain is ideal for the notoriously mobile and elusive species, and we believe that they have always maintained some sort of population or presence in the area. Leopards have an enormous territory of up to 1000 squared kilometers for adult males, and 180 squared kilometers for adult females. Thus, frequent sightings in the Kowie and Fish River valleys (fairly close to Kariega) bodes well for research in the Lower Albany region, of which Kariega Game Reserve forms a part.
How many leopards occur on Kariega Game Reserve and in the Lower Albany area?
This will be addressed by collecting data on sightings, camera trap records and possibly genetic analysis. Our current volunteers are doing great work with 10 camera traps that are placed in areas on the reserve with high leopard activity.
Is leopard activity in the Lower Albany area focused on conservation areas such as Kariega Game Reserve?
This will be addressed by analysing the spatial distribution of leopard sighting records, and if resources are available, through the tracking of collared leopards.
Is there evidence for an increase in leopard numbers and wider distribution within the Lower Albany Area?
This will be addressed by relating the above-mentioned information to historical records of leopards in the study area.
To gauge the number of leopards frequenting the area, the Kariega Foundation has placed 10 cameras on the reserve in places where leopard activity is highest. The cameras are triggered by movement and we are all awaiting our first leopard shots with great anticipation. The cameras and the project in general are being monitored and managed under our Conservation Volunteer Program. All pictures are valuable for the purpose of assessing prey abundance, and it is also rewarding to obtain photographs of rarely spotted wildlife.
How can you help the Cape Leopard?
- Spend some time in our Student Volunteer Program and be part of the project first hand.
- Sponsor a camera trap.
- Adopt a leopard and sponsor a GPS tracking collar once the project reaches that stage.
- Make a general donation (any size will help) through the Kariega Foundation in any of the following ways:
- Donating cash in a Pledge envelope at the reserve
- Adding a donation to your account when you check out after your stay
- Directly transferring a donation into the following bank account
KARIEGA FOUNDATION TRUST
First National Bank
Account No: 62275606526
Branch: Newton Park
Branch code: 261050
For a personalised answer to all your questions and enquiries, please feel free to contact our foundation patron, Graeme Rushmere:
t: +2741 581 2606