Amount of leopards in South Africa is declining fast

The amount of leopards in South Africa is declining rapidly, explicitly in the north of the country. In the past 10 years the leopard population has dropped as much as 66% near the border with Zimbabwe. According to Royal Society Open Science there are barely 4500 wild leopards left in the whole of South Africa.

Data on the population dynamics and threats to large carnivores are vital to conservation efforts, but these are hampered by a paucity of studies. For some species, such as the leopard (Panthera pardus), there is such uncertainty in population trends that leopard trophy hunting has been banned in South Africa since 2016 while further data on leopard abundance are collected. Royal Society Open Science presented one of the first assessments of leopard population dynamics, and identify the key threats to a population of leopards outside of protected areas in South Africa.

They conducted a long-term trap survey between 2012 and 2016 in the Soutpansberg Mountains, and drew on a previous estimate of leopard population density for the region from 2008. In 24 sampling periods, we estimated the population density and assessed population structure. We fitted eight leopards with GPS collars to assess threats to the population.

Change in the population density of leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains between 2008 and 2016. Shading represents 95% CIs. - Image Credit: Royal Society Open Science

Leopard population density declined by 66%, from 10.73 to 3.65 leopards per 100 km2 in 2008 and 2016, respectively. Collared leopards had a high mortality rate, which appeared to be due to illegal human activity. While improving the management of trophy hunting is important, they  suggested that mitigating human–wildlife conflict could have a bigger impact on carnivore conservation.

One of the largest causes of the decline in leopard population is the conversion of natural reserves into residential areas. And probably irreversible as the population of South Africa is projected to continue to grow well into the next decennium. It is the sad truth and we might be starting to encounter this problem with wildlife conversation more and more, all around the world

Source and further reading: Royal Society Open Science, Euromonitor International

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