Researcher: Dr.Gianetta Purchase
Region: Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe
The Zambezi Society was formed 25 years ago with the mission of assisting with the conservation of the natural resources of the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe. The Zambezi Society has been involved in a number of carnivore conservation related projects over the years, and this project is a component of a larger leopard conservation programme for Zimbabwe.There has been increasing concern that the current utilisation system of leopard in Zimbabwe may not be sustainable given the lack of knowledge regarding the status, distribution, threats and population dynamics of this predator species.
The primary objective is to gather information regarding whether the utilisation of leopard is sustainable. This will be done by comparing populations where leopards are fully protected (such as national parks) and areas where they are utilised bringing in other factors that might affect numbers such as land use and human densities. The south-eastern area of Hwange National Park provides an ideal location to collect data for a fully protected population of leopard and compare with data collected from an area with human settlement, livestock and where leopard are hunted as trophy animals. The soil, rainfall and habitat of the south-eastern area of Hwange and the north-east section the Tsholotsho communal land which borders the concessions are similar, enabling a comparison of leopard populations to be carried out.
The project will carry out spoor (track) transects in the Makalolo Concession area and the adjacent area of Tsholotsho communal land to compare spoor densities between the two sites. Camera traps will also be used to aid with identification. A layout of paired camera traps (set to photograph both sides of the animal and triggered by heat or motion) is set to maximise the chance of photographing all individuals in the area. Sensors in the camera detect heat and motion, so there is no need for a beam to be crossed to trigger a camera actuation.
Field trials suggested that the cameras have a trigger speed too slow to ensure that photos of animals passing the trap would be taken (in the absence of bait). This might bias any population estimate derived from the study, so the project intends using a different make of camera trap with a faster trigger speed.
In addition to camera trapping the project will be radio-collaring leopards in Hwange and surrounding hunting areas to study the population dynamics of the species in these two land-use areas. A particular area of interest is whether leopard populations are adversely impacted by competition with lions. In addition the project’s fieldwork is set to expand in 2010 to population surveys in many of the protected areas and key leopard areas of the country.
The camera traps kindly donated by the Wilderness Trust are being trialled as we speak in Hwange National Park and we hope to deploy them in the Makalolo area soon.
We have updated our leopard atlas map and it is quite interesting showing that leopards are being sighted all over the country.
We have also collared a young female leopard in Hwange National Park that was captured by the PWMA capture team as she was raiding the local butchery. We have posted pictures of her on the website as well. This is really exciting as we can now begin to collect data on how far a leopard moves.