Research


The ecology of the leopard in the Cederberg Mountains

A PhD study by Quinton Martins in collaboration with Cape Nature; Bergen University (Norway); Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town.

Supervised by Stephen Harris.


Cape Leopard Trust home

Background

The Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) was established with the primary objective of facilitating and promoting research in support of conserving predator diversity in the Western Cape, South Africa. The conservation strategies include several bio-geographical research projects, advisory services relating to farmer-predator interactions and fostering new eco-tourism initiatives. It also supports an environmental education component and includes a programme of community involvement with future emphasis being on job creation among disadvantaged communities within the Cederberg area, Western Cape.

The CLT was launched in August 2004 as an active predator conservation working group in the Cape and is registered as an NGO. The objectives of the trust have revolved around adopting the leopard as a 'flagship species', to study, understand and highlight the plight of these animals, and other threatened predators, and to find effective and sustainable ways to alleviate farmer-predator conflict in the Cape. This work is of crucial benefit to South African National Parks (SANP) and Cape Nature (CN) in their future predator management strategies.

The Project

Quinton holding an anaesthetised female leopard
Quinton holding an anaesthetised female leopard
© Mammal Research Unit

Quinton Martins is the project manager and one of the principal researchers of the CLT. The current work of the Trust includes several research projects involving leopards in the Cape and elsewhere in South Africa, including a comprehensive conservation genetics project estimating gene flow, genetic variability and genetic relatedness among South African leopard populations. A key aim of this study is to determine whether the leopards of the Western Cape region should be considered as a unique genetic unit- a group of small leopards weighing up to half that of their northern cousins.

There are presently three leopards in the Cederberg that have been collared with GPS transmitters and these are revealing remarkable information on home range and activity patterns. A leopard population density study using camera traps has been underway for the past 2 years, revealing valuable information on these elusive predators.

To date, research has taken place primarily in the Cederberg Mountains, which have been declared a World Heritage Site and are now also part of the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor (GCBC). The CLT have also been invited by Cape Nature to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the ecology of leopards in the Cape as a whole.

The leopard currently fills the role of apex predator in the Cederberg and the rest of the Western Cape; however, its conservation status remains uncertain. The species is regularly removed or exterminated from farms with little knowledge of population or genetic status, whether these removals are sustainable or whether the factors giving rise to conflict are established. Preliminary studies show that (i) leopards in the Cape differ morphologically as well as genetically from leopards elsewhere in Southern Africa (in publication) and (ii) leopard home ranges in the Cederberg mountains may be as much as 8 times larger than those reported in earlier research, illustrating that population sizes are far smaller than previously estimated.

The results of these studies will provide the most comprehensive understanding of the conservation status and needs of the leopard in the Cape conducted to date.

In addition to the research component, the CLT is also actively involved in the empowering of local community residents: (i) it has recently employed a member of the local community who is being trained as a biology field assistant and guide;(ii) it has sponsored Anatolian shepherd dogs to conservation-minded farmers.

The work of the CLT has also been acknowledged at a national level and as a result Quinton Martins has been elected onto the committee of the South African Leopard Forum (SALF) hosted under the umbrella of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT).

Contact details

Quinton Martins
Mammal Research Unit
School of Biological Sciences
University of Bristol
Woodland Road
Bristol BS8 1UG, U.K.

Telephone: 0117 9287593
Email: Quinton Martins