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Green Light for Project, Leopard Scat, and Camera Traps!

  • 07/15/08
  • Nakedi

After eight months of writing and re-writing the proposal, I am pleased to say that the study was finally given the green light by the South African National Parks (SANParks) Scientific Services (Prior to this I was allowed to use camera traps to do some monitoring while I waited for the verdict from the Scientific Services).

This means that once the Conservation Services have gone through the proposal, and given it a nod, we can sign a contract and the leopard project can now go full steam ahead. This will allow the project to go in to the next stage, which involves collaring (using GPS collars) twelve leopards, preferably six males and six females, to see and learn about their space use and what they eat in the process.

Ideally if a leopard spends more than a day in area, it would be possible that there is food there. In turn, we will get an opportunity to see how much time they spend outside the park, if they do that at all. Furthermore we can establish the level of leopard/human interaction.

Next will be the collection of scat to study what leopards eat. (Actually this had already begun six months ago and was done on an opportunistic manner when walking with the Singita tracking team and driving around the concession). Leopards tend to leave their droppings in the middle of the road or in high places so as to mark their territory. To make sure that I am not picking up cheetah scat, I consult with the very experienced trackers. Tracks also help if it is fresh scat. This will later help us establish the level of diet overlap with lions and hyenas. I will explain later what we do with the scat to determine the prey that had been eaten.

In addition, this effort might also help us determine the fate of jackals, the population of which is feared to be declining at an alarming rate. Fate here is suggested because it is well known that leopards have a catholic diet and would without a doubt prey on jackals. It is believed that leopards may be involved in the jackal population’s demise. However, other factors such as disease may not be ruled out. Finding or not finding jackal remains in leopard droppings will hopefully point us in the right direction.

I have been away from the study site for two weeks now. I’m heading there tomorrow and will be able to visit and inspect the cameras by Wednesday July 17th. Elephants can be quite aggressive with them sometimes.

Twice I found two cameras ripped from the ground, but still attached to the drop poles with signs of having been flung and kicked around until the intruder was satisfied. One camera was broken in the process and I’m busy trying to fix it. The other was still working when I found it and it took some interesting pictures of the world above from a worm’s eye view. I have now taken care to hide the cameras from these brutes and hopefully the cameras can last a long time.

Camera trap pushed over by elephants

Some naughty elephants pushed over one of my camera traps.

Camera trap photo of a curious giraffe

The felled camera took some unique - and entertaining - photos.

Worm\'s eye view of giraffe belly

This is what a giraffe would look like from a worm's view!


Nakedi
About the Author

Joining AWF in 2007, Nakedi is the latest addition to AWF's team of species researchers in Africa. Working in the Limpopo region, where he's from, Nakedi's studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies that will benefit communities he's known all his life. Looking at Nakedi's focus areas as a zoologist – Cytogenetics, Molecular Biology, and Geometric Morphometrics – it's easy to see he is serious about conservation. Leopards as a species especially interested him because they are both powerful and elusive – making it a challenge to study and protect them.

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