Leopard population dynamics
Welgevonden Game Reserve has researched leopards in the reserve as part of a greater study to attempt to understand leopard ecology and conservation issues in the Waterberg and elsewhere.
Leopard research is continuing on Welgevonden in association with PANTHERA, Limpopo Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (LEDET), University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. Please click here for more details on the “Limpopo Leopard Project”
The Waterberg Biosphere Reserve is situated within the Waterberg Mountains in the Limpopo Province is well known for its larger conservation areas which include the Marakele National Park as well as privately owned nature reserves, such as Welgevonden Private Game Reserve.
Leopards, and other predators, have existed in these areas naturally despite persecution by livestock farmers and being hunted by trophy hunters.
In addition to Welgevonden, surveys are being conducted in Makalali Game Reserve, Timbavati Game Reserve, Venetia-Limpopo, Atherstone and Wonderkop Nature Reserves, and the western Soutpansberg mountains on non-protected land.
This initial phase of this research is a 3 year project (starting in 2013), and entails the placement of 80 camera traps on each study site for a period of 50 days. The data will then be used to develop a model that can be applied to estimate leopard population numbers for Limpopo and thereby enable the authorities to make informed decisions pertaining to leopard conservation.
Welgevonden was asked to participate in this research due to our history of leopard research and especially camera trapping dating back to 2008. It is believed this continued monitoring will give Welgevonden, conservationists, ecologists, Government departments and the general public a better understanding of leopard population dynamics in general and specifically for Welgevonden Game Reserve.
A conflict of interests therefore exists where leopards, and other predators, are seen to be valuable from an eco-tourism point of view for these large protected areas and private reserves. However, they are regarded as problem animals by livestock farmers who are suffer the consequence of predation on cattle, goats and sheep and in some cases even on wildlife, both natural and introduced, which have financial value to the game farmers who own smaller game farms in the Waterberg.
Being involved with leopard and predator research and conservation but understanding the realities Welgevonden joined hands with the Carnivore Conservation Programme (CCP) of the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) which aims to conserve predators, which are of conservation concern (cheetahs, leopards, African Wild Dog and the brown and spotted hyena), occur naturally outside of protected areas on commercial farms where species of conservation concern occur and where livestock farmers faced with predation are using methods which have a negative impact on the environment and the wildlife that occur in that area. One of the strategies used has been to introduce Livestock Guarding Dogs (LGD) onto the farms to assist the farmers in guarding livestock. The Livestock Guarding Dog Project has clearly showed that the use of these dogs can actually have a positive impact on reducing predation, making it unnecessary for farmers to use unselective and in most cases unsuccessful control methods in order to reduce predation.
The CCP of the EWT has been trying to mitigate conflict in the Waterberg for a long period. Together with the Welgevonden Game Reserve joined forces with the EWT and donated a substantial amount of money to secure the first ten placements of Livestock Guarding Dogs around the perimeter of the Welgevonden Game Reserve. The EWT made a decision not only to use the Anatolian Livestock Guarding dog, but also to do a trial on the use of the Africanis “Maluti” livestock guarding dog which is an indigenous African breed of dog used to guard livestock in Lesotho.
The first five Africanis “Maluti” dogs which were placed during August 2010 with farmers around Welgevonden have all adapted well. The farmers are all satisfied with the LGD’s and are very surprised at the way these dogs are working and guarding the various herds of livestock. One of the dogs had a close death experience when a python decided to have him for breakfast, but luckily the farmer saw this and rescued the dog!
Being part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve the idea is to create safe movement corridors for the larger predators, such as leopards, between the bigger conservation areas, such as Welgevonden Game Reserve , within the greater Waterberg Biosphere by reducing and or limiting predation by these predators on livestock which occur on the farms between these conservation areas. Another three dogs sponsored by the lodges in Welgevonden have been successfully placed and are working well. To date a total of 25 Livestock Guardian Dogs placed in the Waterberg. The average livestock farm size is 1 500 ha in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, meaning that the EWT Livestock Guarding Dog project has secured approximately 37 500 ha for predators through placement of dogs.