Leopard numbers in Overberg area "too low" to be sustained

Nine Cape Leopards have been identified as living in the Overberg area, between Hermanus and Cape Infanta. A study undertaken by the Landmark Foundation estimates that a maximum of 16 leopards may be found in the area. But the group warns the population remains too low to sustain a genetically viable leopard population.


According to Jeannine McManus of the Landmark Foundation Leopard & Predator Project, at the ABI Annual General Meeting held in June, leopards are the last remaining free-roaming top predator. But urgent management actions are needed to help leopard populations survive here.


She said that the loss of habitat remains one of the key challenges to leopards. “Species are becoming restricted to small patches, and this causes genetic isolation that can over time lead to extinction.”  In the Overberg district, transformation of land for agricultural purposes has restricted leopards to live in the mountainous areas and adjacent undeveloped valleys. 


She said that conserving the leopard habitat remains vital. “If we can just conserve the habitat, we don’t have to do much else.” A narrow corridor below the town of Bredasdorp has been found to connect two potential habitat patches. But this corridor should at the minimum be maintained, and expanded if possible, to allow leopards to cross.


Leopard numbers across Africa have been decreasing over the years. In the Overberg region, there had been little information available to date on populations living here. McManus said the loss of leopards has an impact on the landscapes in which they live. “They have an important role to play ecologically: they influence biodiversity and they help maintain healthy ecosystems. So we also lose lower levels of biodiversity without predation. And here, losing even one leopard out of 16 is a huge problem.”  


The study found that female leopards weigh on average 22kg in the region, while male leopards here weigh about 35kg, although some have weighed as little as 21kg. Most leopard sightings were recorded in the De Hoop area, as well as the Hemel and Aarde valley. 


McManus said that a draft management strategy for the Western Province is currently being compiled based on high quality data collected from the research project, which will have specific references to local cases. Stakeholders have been invited to collaborate on this.


For more information, or to report leopard sightings or if there is any conflict with livestock, contact Jeannine McManus. Tel. 084 592 4099 or 083 324 3344; Email: jeannine@landmarkfoundation.org.za


Landowners are also encouraged to contact CapeNature on any leopard activity on their farm. Contact Andrae Marais. Tel. 028 312 0062 or 079 428 3650.



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