By Caryn Dolley
December 12 2006 at 07:13AM
The first Eastern Cape leopard has been successfully fitted with a Global Positioning System (GPS) collar after being rescued from a live trap - the safer alternative to a gin trap - in what is being called "a breakthrough in predator rescues" by conservationists.
Bool Smuts, director of the Landmark Foundation which has been running a predator rescue programme for four years, said saving the male leopard in the Baviaanskloof on Friday was "an uplifting feat and a dramatic breakthrough".
Named Neels after Neels Joubert, owner of the sheep farm where it was captured, the leopard was the first in the region to be fitted with a GPS collar before being released into the Addo Elephant National Park.
The collar will enable the Landmark Foundation to track the leopard's movements and would assist with research into the interaction between leopards and livestock.
"This is great, because when leopards are trapped in the gin traps they get so badly injured they usually die, and we then obviously can't track them. The live trap doesn't injure the animals when they're captured, so now we can successfully collar and release them," said Smuts.
Whereas gin traps snapped shut over leopards' paws, often badly injuring them, the live trap was a cylindrical cage with doors that closed when the animal stepped on a trigger plate inside.
Smuts said that, before Neels was released, he was darted and examined by Ross Cobus, a veterinarian from Port Elizabeth. "Specimens were collected for genetic analysis and he was weighed. He was then transported to the elephant park and released in perfect condition with his newly fitted collar."
Smuts said, together with the Eastern Cape Environmental Affairs Department, they would be running workshops to teach farmers in the area about safer predator control methods to prevent more barbaric deaths.
"Joubert lost more than 20 sheep because of leopards, but he listened to us and used live traps. This probably saved the leopard's life. We're finally getting the message across," said Smuts.
The Vodacom Foundation is sponsoring live traps for interested farmers, as well as Anatolian guard dogs to protect their sheep and livestock,and sheep neck collars to protect them from predators, he added.
In the past four years, 19 leopards were killed in the Baviaanskloof region as a result of gin traps, while only three were rescued this year.