Shooting leopards: rifles and camera traps

The trophy hunting industry is a controversial topic. People are often surprised that threatened species such as leopards can be trophy hunted legally in may African countries. Any yet trophy hunting brings in huge revenues, which can be used to fund conservation. Proponents of the hunting industry point out that trophy hunting can be an effective conservation tool, as long it is well managed and conducted in a sustainable manner.

Sustainability is one of the criteria on which CITES allocates quotas for the international trade in products from endangered species. South Africa has been allocated an annual CITES export quota of 150 leopards, meaning that 150 leopards can be legally trophy hunted and exported per year. But in order to be granted that quota, they must show evidence to prove to CITES that the quota does not have a detrimental impact on the leopard population. The South African authorities were recently unable to prove this, which means that they are in danger of losing their CITES quota for leopard trophies.

As a result, the authorities are keen to collaborate with researchers in order to obtain reliable evidence on the population size and trends of leopards in South Africa. Guy Balme and Ross Pitman, researchers from Panthera (a felid conservation organisation), are working with the authorities on the Limpopo Leopard Project, which aims to determine the population trends of leopards across the Limpopo Province. They are surveying multiple sites across the province using camera traps, and they recently asked the Primate and Predator Project to collaborate with to establish a study site in the Soutpansberg mountains.

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Together we set out 40 pairs of camera traps across an area of over 200 km². We check the cameras every two weeks to replace the rechargeable batteries and download the images. This will continue for two months each year, and the data we collect will be used to directly inform leopard management strategies, and ensure that they are sustainable in the long term. We are extremely grateful to the land owners that have granted us access and support for this important project.

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