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Monday, 1 October 2012

"L" is for Leopard

CCF has carried out a number of camera trapping surveys, and also maintains a network of cameras positioned for ongoing monitoring of the wildlife on our land.  While we are mainly focused on cheetahs, there are many other species out there, and the cameras will trigger no matter what passes them by.  In this series of weekly blog entries, I will use these pictures to illustrate some of the wealth of animal life in Namibia - one species per week.  I hope you will enjoy seeing a little more of our world here in the bush.

It gives me considerable pleasure to talk this week about my undoubted favourite of the big cats; the Leopard. Graceful and lethal, males can weigh up 90 kg, and are nearly 2m long.  Yet despite their size, they are rarely seen, and most historical estimates of their population have been found to have been produced using highly unreliable methods.  We do know that they existed over a significantly larger range than they do today.

Despite that range reduction, leopards can still be found in over 70 countries across sub-saharan Africa, the Middle East, India, and SE Asia.   They are highly adaptable and can survive in a wide variety of habitats from deserts to swamps, to grasslands, and even rain-forests.  They seem most at home in mountainous and rocky areas, however.  Leopards are often portrayed as the most intelligent, and dangerous of the big cats. San Bushmen in Namibia have reported that while their hunting parties will sometimes chase lions off a kill and take the meat back to their village, they would never dare to steal from a leopard for fear of it following them home and taking something, (or someone) else, in return!

The IUCN lists the leopard as "Near Threatened", but also say that it might be reclassified as "Vulnerable" in the future, due to habitat losses and the numbers of leopards killed in an effort at "pest control" (mainly to protect against livestock losses).  It is legal to trophy hunt leopards in most countries, and while these hunts may or may not have a significant impact, their inclusion in that most infamous of hunting lists -- "the Big Five" -- has resulted in massive numbers of leopards being killed for their skins.

Leopards eat a wide variety of prey, from small rodents, arthropods and birds, to larger antelopes, and, where wild prey is unavailable, they will, like other predators, take domestic livestock.  Such incidents are less common than is generally believed, and many leopards are unnecessarily killed as a result of perceived and unfounded threats.

Here at CCF, we have a large and healthy leopard population dominated by an 8 or 9 year old male that some staff have nicknamed Goliath.  Both our field staff and camera traps see leopards frequently, and they never fail to inspire a sense of awe and joy.

-- Ryan Sucaet

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