1N – Protecting the Cape Leopard

Supporting article N: Let’s get behind initiatives that protect the biodiversity still existing in our country: The Cape Leopard.


What does the Cape Leopard Trust do?
The primary objectives of The Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) are to facilitate and promote research in support of conserving biological diversity in the Western Cape, with a focus on Cape leopards as a flagship species. Conservation strategies include finding solutions to human-wildlife conflict, conducting rigorous scientific research, encouraging sustainable and responsible eco- tourism, running a broad environmental education programme aimed primarily at children, and working to empower people from local communities.

How did the Cape Leopard Trust start?
Quinton Martins began his study of leopards in the Cederberg Mountains in 2003. Hiking in these mountains, he found signs of leopards, but was shocked at how many were being killed. He realised that more than research was necessary. Quinton sold all his valuables, including his cameras and his car to fund his work, hitching lifts to the Cederberg and staying for free at Oasis backpackers. It was only after receiving his first financial support on meeting Johan van der Westhuizen, a landowner from the Cederberg, that Quinton realised that other people might be interested in funding the work he was doing. Together, they set up the Cape Leopard Trust in 2004. This was followed by a hugely successful fundraising event, in which Leopard’s Leap Wines pledged their support. Since then, the CLT has grown from strength to strength.

Where is the CLT based?
The Cape Leopard Trust’s headquarters are in the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve in the Cederberg. The CLT also has projects running in the Boland mountains (run from Franschhoek), the Gouritz Corridor (run from Gamkaberg Nature Reserve) and Namaqualand.

How many leopards are there in the Cederberg?
In Quinton’s study area (3000km2, in the Cederberg area) there are approximately 25 adult leopards. This is broken down into approximately 8 adult males and 17 females.

How many Cape leopards are left?
We are not sure. However, if one considers that there are only 25 in a 3000km2 area in the Cederberg, and one takes into account that the Cape leopards only occur in wild mountainous areas their numbers must be very low. We are currently doing studies in the Gouritz Corridor and the Boland mountains that will give us a better estimate of the population of leopards in the Cape.

Where do the Cape leopards occur?
The Cape leopards occur in the mountainous regions of the Cape.

What is special about Cape leopards?
Cape leopards are much smaller than those elsewhere in Africa, being about half the mass. On average, the females weigh about 20kg and the males about 35kg. The Cape leopards also have exceptionally large home ranges:

Leopards in Kruger: Leopards in Cederberg:
Male: 25 – 50km2 Male: 200 – 1000km2
Female: 10 – 25km2 Female: 80 – 180km2

The genetic status of the Cape leopards is currently under investigation. It is clear that there are genetic differences, but whether they are a sub- species or only a separate management unit, has yet to be proven.

What is a ‘tier’?
Directly translated a ‘tier’ is a tiger in Afrikaans but many people use it to describe leopards this is derived from the original name ‘Tyger’ used by early European settlers in the Cape.

What is the difference between a leopard and a cheetah?
Although leopards and cheetahs are both large cats, they are designed quite differently. Leopards hunt by stalking their prey, getting really close and pouncing. They also often drag their prey into trees, although they can’t really do this in the Cape mountains due to the distinct lack of appropriate trees. Leopards are therefore stocky and strong. Cheetahs on the other hand, are designed for speed, chasing their prey over longer distances, mostly in open terrain. They therefore have a light build and long legs. Another difference is in their markings – a leopard has rosettes (rings of spots) whereas a cheetah only has individual spots. Cheetahs also have characteristic black ‘tear marks’ on their faces.

Are the Cape leopards endangered?
Because of the nature of their low densities, large home ranges and limited suitable habitat leopards in the Cape are far more threatened than many other leopard populations.

Why are leopards important?
Apart from being beautiful, enigmatic creatures that epitomise wilderness they are also the top predator in the Cape and by doing what is necessary to protect them we can simultaneously protect all the other animals that inhabit their ecosystem.

What are the main threats to Cape leopards?
The main threats to Cape leopards are habitat loss due to development, and extermination by people trying to protect their livestock. Natural threats, especially to cubs, include other predators such as Black Eagles, snakes, disease and malnutrition. Leopards are also known to kill each other when vying for territory, or killing another leopards cubs when moving into a vacant territory.

How many cubs does a leopard have and how often?
There are 2 -3 cubs in a litter. If a female is successful in raising young, the inter-birthing period is 18months to about two years. Very little is known about the reproduction of the Cape leopard. It is a very tough environment and from observations in the Cederberg there seems to be a high mortality rate (at least 50%, probably much higher), especially when cubs are in their first few months. Even when they are older (juveniles) they are still in danger, especially from other territorial leopards. Until males are about four years old, they have to find a way to survive in other dominant males’ territories, so they must be very careful not to make their presence obvious. The females are ready to breed at about 3yrs years. In the Cederberg a long-term research project is being conducted in order to observe trends over time, such as the percentage of leopards surviving to breeding age.

What do leopards eat?
Leopards in the Cape have quite a broad diet, eating things that range in size from a cow to a lizard. However, their main diet in the Cederberg is klipspringer and dassies (rock hyrax), and to a lesser extent other antelope as well as porcupine.

Do leopards eat baboons?
From data collected in the Cederberg and Gouritz region, it is clear that baboons are seldom eaten (<4% % in a diet study). These would most likely have been opportunistic. Generally, it is something of a myth that leopards prey on baboons. Certainly the Cape leopards, with their small builds, would have a tough time taking on a troop of baboons!

What does a leopard track look like?
The first thing is to make sure that a track is a cat track – cats have retractable claws, so you usually won’t see any claw marks. They also have two indentations on the back of the main pad, creating three bulges. Then check the size – a Cape leopard’s track is between 6,5cm and 8,5cm from the front of the longest toe to the back of the main pad. The tracks are females are smaller than the tracks of males, and a leopard’s front feet are bigger and rounder than its back feet.
Figure 1 Male leopard track, measuring the front paw print

Where can I get a good photo of a Cape leopard?
There are no professional quality photos of Cape leopards that we are aware of. The CLT has many good leopard photos from camera trap pictures; however, these are not high-resolution images.
Are the Cape leopards dangerous?

Due to their small size and elusive nature, the Cape leopards are not considered to be a danger to people. There are no reports of attacks on people. However, if one were to corner a Cape leopard, or threaten a female’s cubs, they could be very dangerous.

What must I do if I see a leopard?
If you are ever lucky enough to see a Cape leopard, enjoy the experience! Watch it and if you can, take a photo. Usually these leopards will move off quickly if they come into contact with people. (Best not to run away, it may think that you are prey…)

How can I see a Cape leopard?
Cape leopards are incredibly elusive and very seldom seen. Most sightings are pure chance. That said, if you are in the Cape mountains, keep your eyes and ears open as there are certain indicators that a predator is in the area. Listen out for birds and animals alarm calling – almost all animals have particular sounds that they make to warn others of the presence of a predator. If you see Black Eagles diving-bombing an animal, they are probably going for a leopard (see article) and you may therefore have a chance of seeing it. Also look out for fresh leopard tracks.

What kind of camera traps do you use?
We use Cuddeback capture cameras, digital infrared cameras that are triggered by motion and heat.

Where can I get a camera trap?
You can either purchase one through us, or we can provide you with the details of the company we use.

How do you collar your leopards?
See cage trapping.

How do you stop leopards from killing livestock?
Human wildlife conflict is a complex issue but there are various methods, which can be used in combinations depending on the circumstances. These include Anatolian sheep dogs, traditional herding and keeping livestock in an adequately fenced kraal at night.

How do you stop people from killing leopards?
Livestock farmers are in a difficult situation but it is important for them to understand that they need to protect their livestock. Killing predators does not resolve the issue as new leopards move in to take over the vacant territory. All predators fulfil a vital function in our ecosystem – without them, knock-on effects are soon experienced.

How do you fund the project?
The Cape Leopard Trust is a Non Profit Organisation, sponsored primarily by corporate funders, trust funds and private donors.

What can I do to get involved?
There are numerous ways of getting involved:
• Spread support and awareness of the CLT
• Adopt a Spot
• Sponsor a camera trap
• Sponsor a school camp for disadvantaged children

Where can I get a Cape Leopard Trust T-shirt?
New CLT T-shirts will be coming soon with a beautiful new design. We will send out an update with all the details as soon as they are available.

Does the CLT do talks?
Yes, we are happy to do presentations (and no, we DON’T bring along a tame leopard!) where we request our costs are covered as a minimum charge – further donations are most welcome. We also do school presentations, at no charge.

How can I book an education camp?
Please email Elizabeth Martins on elizabeth@capeleopard.org.za or call on 027 482 992