Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New GPS trap and tag system to save S. African leopards

By Athane Scholtz Garden Route Reporter

IN a major breakthrough for the conservationist Landmark Foundation, the organisation rescued a large male leopard in Grootrivier- poort in the Baviaans Mountains.

The fifth leopard in the greater Baviaanskloof region to be rescued from certain death in the past three years, the catch is particularly significant because it is the first to be caught, tagged and released at the site where it had been captured.

Foundation director Bool Smuts said the 46kg male, caught in a live trap causing minimal injury to the animal, was healthy but had part of its paw missing following a previous encounter with a gin trap.

"One of the foundation's aims is to convince farmers to make use of alternative solutions to the problem of stock losses. Although there are many reasons for stock losses, the blame is often shifted onto leopards. If we are given the opportunity to tag leopards with GPS systems and then release them back into their territory, we have a better chance of tracking their whereabouts. This way we can prove whether a specific leopard is responsible for stock losses and . . . relocate it or put it down in cases where it has no teeth and eat sheep as easy targets."

Smuts said the release of the animal into its own territory was a sign that the foundation's campaign to rid the region of gin and poison traps were slowly bearing fruit and favour.

"When recent losses were reported on the Grootrivierpoort farm, the foundation helped to have live traps set on the farm. Within three weeks we caught the leopard in the live trap without significant injuries. For the first time an agreement was reached with the farmer to release it again on his property, which is important in the determining of leopard numbers – since leopards are territorial, a specific male's presence would mean it was highly unlikely that another roamed nearby."

Smuts said the foundation had experienced increasing support from the farming sector in the past six months as its campaign had gained momentum. The project has . . . rescued five leopards from . . . death, of which three have been . . . relocated to the Addo area.

"We wish to continue tagging and releasing the animals on the farms in which they are caught, however if that is not possible, we will continue to support local relocations as dictated by conservation officials. We will also continue our vocal campaign to have gin and poison traps outlawed," said Smuts.

Founded in 2004, the Landmark Foundation runs several conservation initiatives including the leopard project.

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