Sunday, July 22, 2007

S. Africa: Perfume used to attract study leopards

John Yeld
Cape Argus (Cape Town)
20 July 2007

The leopard wears Prada? Or is it perhaps Dior, or Chanel?

The hidden Cape mountain leopards of the Cederberg are revealing some of their secrets, thanks partly to their weakness for expensive perfumes.

This surprising trait is being exploited by the Cape Leopard Trust whose researchers spray a liberal dose of perfume - deodorants are also effective - on the cage traps they're using to catch, collar and release these charismatic but threatened animals.

The latest leopard to be seduced by a gorgeous perfume is "Oom Arrie". This very healthy and unusually large 44kg male leopard - named after the manager of the Bakkrans game reserve in the Cederberg - was finally physically trapped a full 18 months after being first "caught" by a camera trap.

"On December 15, 2005, the chairman of the Cederberg Conservancy, Jannie Nieuwoudt, several of his employees and I carried a very heavy leopard cage trap a couple of kilometres over some exceptionally rocky terrain in order to be able to capture 'M2' who had been seen in our camtrap picture," Cape Leopard Trust project manager Quinton Martins recalled this week.

"I knew very little of this male's movements, other than from the records from our camera traps and from his spoor.

"Little did I know then that it would take one-and-a-half years and more than 200 trap nights before we would finally manage to collar this animal - the eighth we've managed to collar since the inception of the project in the Cederberg."

This cage trap was situated along the Groot River near the mountain lodge, Mount Ceder.

A VHF transmitter was attached to it and the signal was checked twice a day to see whether it had been triggered.

Martins and field assistant Willem Titus also monitored the cage on foot every second or third day to see whether there were tracks in the area.

"Luckily, other than a baboon and a klipspringer, both released unharmed, there was little 'by catch' in this trap," Martins said.

Oom Arrie had a "big round tummy" - most likely from eating a small antelope - when captured.

His collar will allow the researchers to monitor his movements over the next 14 months.

Martins declined to reveal the particular perfume used to trap Oom Arrie.

"Ah ha! Was it Coco, or Tommy, or ... mmmmm!" was all he would say teasingly, but added: "We'd like to thank all our supporters for their generous donations of various exotic perfumes and deodorants used as part of our trapping technique.

"We now have enough scents to trap all the leopards in the Western Cape - thank you!"

Unfortunately, it's not all good news from the project.

"We recaptured him just over two months ago, and found him in excellent health," he said.

They fitted a new collar on the big leopard, but since then have been unable to locate any signals and - ominously - have also not found any tracks.

"There's a possibility someone trapped Johan and on seeing the collar, buried both him and the collar," Martins said, adding that they were appealing to anyone who can provide information to come forward.

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