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Counting Leopards

To successfully estimate leopard numbers in the concession, each leopard has to be individually identified by the unique spot patterns found on its flanks and face. Each leopard has its own unique spot pattern, like fingerprints on humans.

Up to this point, I have only one camera per station. This is a problem because if the camera photographs a single leopard but captures one flank the first time and the other flank the second time, there’s no proof that the animal is the same individual. This therefore means that a single animal will be counted twice. The solution here is to use two cameras, one opposite the other, to capture both flanks of a moving animal at the same time.

For example, the animal pictured here (see Figure 1) can be identified as a single individual, because the camera captured only the right flank. Here I was lucky because the animal was repeatedly photographed only on the right side. Another picture of the leopard taken by the same camera, but capturing the left flank, would make it difficult to determine whether it is the same animal (Figure 2).

Figure 1
Unique markings on the left side of a female leopard, captured by
a camera on the game path on the bank of the N’wanetsi River
at Singita Kruger National Park.

Figure 2
A leopard whose left flank is captured on camera as he moves along
the N’wanetsi River at Singita Kruger National Park. This leopard, until
the spot pattern on the right flank of this animal is shown to be the same
as in Figure 1, will be counted as two different individuals.

The best solution is to add more cameras, with two cameras deployed at each station. In that way, there’s  no chance of overestimating the number of leopards in the area.

About the Author

Nakedi joined AWF in 2007, working in the Limpopo region, where he's from. Nakedi's initial work was focused on studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies to benefit communities he's known all his life. In 2014, Nakedi moved on from the Limpopo region, becoming AWF’s Congo landscape ecologist.

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