02 Sep Leopard collaring
As part of the leopard research program being run by Lourens Swanepoel from the Centre for Wildlife Management at the University of Pretoria it was necessary to collar a few leopards in order to determine there home ranges, habitat preferences and to add to information gleaned from dung analysis as to what these animals are eating.
The focus of the collaring effort was and is in the centre of Welgevonden Game Reserve due to the fact that one of the aims of the project is to study leopards in as natural an environment as possible, with as little influence from possible persecution as possible.
Early in the summer an extended effort was made to capture these animals in baited cages but with no success. Why go to old bait when the veld is teaming with young inexperienced delicious prey items. Due to the fact that cage trapping can result in injuries to the animals an alternative method was decided on for the second attempt. An expert in the field of leg hold traps was approached for assistance.
Darien has trapped everything from male lions to jackals, all over the world. The leg hold trap is based on a modified snare made out of cable that when triggered is thrown up the animals leg and gets pulled tight. The noose is set so that it does not close fully and therefore does not injure the animal. The trap is attached to a large elastic to prevent the animal pulling against a solid cable in any attempt to get away. The leg traps are set close to baits to attract the animal to the area. Once captured the animal is then darted, removed from the trap, collared, studied, measured and assessed before being placed in a recovery crate. Once the animal has slept off the effects of the immobilizing drugs and is fully awake they are released from the recovery crate into the area they were captured.
One of the complications of this method is that not only leopards visit these sites. Brown hyena, warthog and any other animal can be also be trapped. These animals are usually released without having to dart the animal.
The first leopard caught was a male that had previously been collared on a neighbouring property and has since taken up residence on Welgevonden. The collar was no longer working and was starting to become tight around this growing animals neck. It was with a great relief when this was the first animal caught and his collar could be replaced. This animal has been recorded over most of the reserve. He now has a brand new state of the art collar that will automatically drop off the animal when its batteries are near the end of their life in so doing preventing the animal potentially having a collar for the rest of its life, which could potentially strangle the animal. It makes the initial investment in this expensive collar technology all the more worth it.
Thanks to the Wilson Foundation who sponsors this project and was prepared to finance these collars. This male weighed in at 63kg and estimated at between 4 and 5 years old and is in superb condition. Two days after the collar was fitted this animal was seen to kill a bushpig and was relaxed in the presence of the observing vehicles.
Two female leopard were also captured during this time and an additional female was collared during a second capture session. These collars will remain on the leopards for about 350 days after which they will be triggered to drop off. Some interesting data has already been collected. A progress report will be placed on this website when available under the leopard research section..