The plight of the leopard in South Africa
In the distant past before Cape Town was discovered and
built up by man many animals roamed the plains.
Today however all these plains have been stolen from the
animals and turned into towns and villages.
The animals that roamed the plains have been pushed further
and further from their natural habitats and many of them have become extinct.
Lions that once roamed the Cape Flats were shot and killed
by hunters over the years .
The few that are left are now only found in zoos and Nature Reserves.
Today all Cape Town has left are a couple of smaller wild cats.
The largest of these is the leopard and it is one of the
few cats that still roam the mountain ranges around Cape Town.
The leopard although large is not dangerous until it
is cornered and then will attack only to protect itself.
In the mountain ranges to the north of
Cape Town wild leopards are still found.
Unfortunately there is a dispute between them and stock
farmers as farms sometimes extend into the natural habitat
of the leopard or farmers graze their
livstock high up on mountain ranges.
Of course a sheep or goat is easy prey for a leopard
and if it is hungry it will attack and eat them.
This upsets the farmers who take revenge by shooting the leopard.
When Van Riebeeck arrived in Cape Town in 1652 the leopard
was found throughout South Africa and the main concentration
areas were the Karoo and up into the Eastern Cape.
Leopards were constantly hunted and were exterminated
from the Karoo regions by the end of the 1900s.
During the period from 1947 to 1955 laws forced farmers
to kill the leopard as it was classified as vermin.
This law had the effect of drastically reducing numbers.
A bounty was placed on the leopard and 821 ”bounties”
were paid out for leopards that were killed.
This substantially reduced the
numbers in the Northern and Eastern Cape.
Today leopards are mainly found in the mountains
of the Southern and South Western Cape, the lower
Orange River area and the Kalahari Gemsbok National park.
As numbers are so low there is now an effort being made to conserve them.
Many leopards have been caught and radio collars
placed around their necks so that the conservationists are able to track them.
It has been discovered that in the mountains above
Stellenbosch the home range of a male leopard is 338
square kilometres whereas that of a female is 487 square kilometres.
The size of the home range suggests that the population must be very low.
In the Cedarberg the home ranges of leopards tracked
ranges from 44 square kilometres for an
old male to 69 square kilometres for an adult male.
It is interesting to note the patterns of the
leopards as they mark out their territories.
They move rapidly backwards and forwards across
their ranges and demarcate their territories
with droppings and urine.
Leopards normally stay high up in the mountains
and don't come down to feed even in the winter months.
Where they come into contact with livestock it is
normally the farmer extending his territory or
grazing his stock in an established leopard teritory.
Leopards are opportunists and will feed on any prey
that presents itself. Their normal prey is dassies
(Rock Rabbits) and small antelopes although rats
mice and other small animals form part of their diet.
In the Wemmershoek area where there are feral pigs
researchers have found evidence that leopards
have caught and eaten them as well.
Baboons which are quite plentiful in the mountains
are also prey to the leopard. They however take
to the cliff faces when leopards are about.
It is thought that the mere presence of a leopard
in a specific area will control the baboons and
assist farmers who lose crops to them when they raid the fields.
Conserving the leopard is of paramount importance.
Without them problems could be experienced with
rock rabbits rats and mice which are all part of the food chain.
To do this is quite difficult as many of
the home ranges of leopards cross farm lands.
It is therefore necessary to include the
farmers in the conservation plan.
Certain restrictions have been placed on
farmers with regards to hunting the leopards.
Anybody hunting a leopard must have a permit.
To get the permit he must request that personnel from
the Chief Directorate of Nature Conservation visit the
area to establish that it is in fact a leopard
that is attacking his livestock.
The permit once issued expires after 3 months
although it is sometimes issued for shorter periods.
If a leopard is shot and killed it remains the
property of The Department of Nature Conservation.
If the farmer would like to keep the skin of the
leopard he has killed he has a month
to apply to Nature Conservation to keep it.
When permission is granted further
restrictions with regard to the skins apply.
They become non transferable and may not even be donated or sold.
Of course if this was allowed there would be
wholesale slaughter of leopards for their skins.
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Leopards in South Africa