Friday, August 03, 2007

S. African farmers opt for more humane capture of leopards

By Athane Scholtz Garden Route Reporter

IN a major breakthrough for leopard conservation programmes in the Baviaanskloof area, the Baviaanskloof Valley Farmers‘ Association said all its members would in future refrain from using gin traps on their farms.

The news was welcomed by environmentalists and, in particular, the Landmark Foundation, which has been working with some farmers in a dedicated predator rescue programme in the valley since 2004.

Foundation director Bool Smuts said the announcement was made by Dawid Smith during the catch, collar and release of a leopard on his farm on Tuesday.

"We have been working with Dawid for a few months now because the area in which his farm is situated is regarded as one of the hotspots, where major losses of leopards and livestock have been reported," he said. "In partnership with him, the foundation has developed a comprehensive holistic predator management strategy on his farm as a pilot project."

Smith‘s entire flock of 1 100 sheep were kitted out with protective wire-mesh collars, and an Anatolian guard dog – a breed that lives outdoors with the sheep – was introduced. Smith also agreed to the use of live traps (cages with trap doors) instead of gin traps that seriously maim animals.

The animal is caught and collared with a GPS system that can trace its whereabouts. If stock losses occur and the GPS data implicates the collared leopard, a farmer would be compensated – initially financially but later through a "green" labelling system that would identify products as "leopard-friendly" to consumers.

"We firmly believe that these interventions will be cost-effective, humane and ecologically acceptable. We hope that Dawid‘s farm, which really is one of the most affected by predator activity, will become an example to other farmers in the area as to the effectiveness of these measures," Smuts said.

He said the banning of gin traps in the valley was significant and the foundation would support the farmers in effecting the change to holistic predator management strategies.

"It is a major change of mindset by the farmers, which is commendable and encouraging. The co-operation of all the farmers in the valley can make a major difference to the overall well-being of the local leopard population." The leopard caught, collared and released on Tuesday was a young female, weighing 22kg. She was in perfect health.

Before her release, she was fully examined, and a genetic sample and morphological measurements taken. The information obtained from her will be part of the research, sponsored by the Landmark Foundation, into population sizes, dynamics and, ultimately, economic mechanisms to ensure the conservation of the animals.

The foundation has assisted with the relocation and successful release of three leopards into the Addo Elephant National Park in recent years, as well as the capture, collaring and release of two leopards into the Baviaanskloof area.

The two leopards are of particular significance as, previously, the animals had to be removed from the areas of capture as farmers were reluctant to have them released on their land where they could cause stock losses.

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