On Monday Ian Gaigher, the owner of Lajuma Research Centre, received a phone call. A leopard had attacked a calf in a nearby community. The community didn’t know what to do or who to call but were threatening to kill the leopard in retaliation. Ian and Oldrich immediately went down to assess the situation and offer support.
The calf had been attacked in the night. The leopard had pulled it through the side of the weak enclosure and bit it’s spine.
Unfortunately one of the challenges we face when working with local people is a lack of understanding about wildlife. The community’s response was accusatory – why did we let ‘our’ leopard attack their calf? Ian and Oldrich tried to explain that this is a wild animal and is not anyone’s leopard. They explained about mitigation strategies to prevent future attacks and how we can hopefully help with this. Another hurdle which must be faced is trying enable local people find value in protecting wild animals and especially predators. A greater understanding of wildlife and a stronger working relationship needs to be established to protect leopards and people’s livelihoods but this a long term process. This week the Primate and Predator Project took the first step in this process.
After a challenging conversation, Ian was able to convince the community not to poison or trap the leopard. Instead he set up a camera trap to discover which leopard was responsible for the attack.
On Tuesday morning the entire Primate and Predator Project team went to the community. The calf’s carcass had been visited by a leopard for a second time.
We checked the camera trap and found the following photos:
A young leopard we collared in June called BB had made the kill and returned the next night to eat from the carcass. We have been monitoring BB since he was a cub and the data we are receiving from his collar is contributing a great deal to our knowledge of leopard ranging, behaviour and interactions with baboons. We were so grateful that he had been spared and felt even more passionate about the mitigation task ahead of us.
The enclosure where the calf was taken from looked like this when we arrived. A leopard could see the livestock inside and easily enter the boma.
Our team worked alongside members of the community to chop large quantities of spikey acacia branches and sicklebushes. We created a wall of spikes a meter thick and 1.8 meters high.
We then laid a layer of thick black plastic around our wall to ensure that leopards cannot see inside and to add extra support.
This was surrounded by yet another meter of spikey bushes.
A strong metal gate was installed.
And we celebrated the end result with a PPP team photo (minus photographer Sam!).
Although this week we made a difference to mitigate human-leopard conflict at this one cattle enclosure, a much larger solution is need for this community and the leopards that live nearby. We need to work with the community to help them reinforce all the other cattle bomas. And we need to start changing perceptions and improving knowledge.
Because of the high level of snaring and conflict we have observed in the leopard population in the past year, we feel that these actions are necessary immediately. The Earthwatch Institute has kindly offered financial support to launch a community engagement campaign focussed on this specific community. We are so grateful for this support and will be starting a programme shortly. The first step will be an event for everyone in the community to inform them about our work, about leopards, wildlife and their values, and about mitigation strategies which can be implemented with their help.