Leopards get high-tech tags

2010-07-01 22:26
CapeNature rangers and researchers from the Cape Leopard Trust have recently equipped the first of 12 leopards with radio collars to track their movements in the Gamkaberg. (CapeNature)

CapeNature rangers and researchers from the Cape Leopard Trust have recently equipped the first of 12 leopards with radio collars to track their movements in the Gamkaberg. (CapeNature)

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Cape Town - CapeNature has fitted GPS tracking tags to monitor the movements of Western Cape leopards.

The process began last week when "Oom Pep", a large male leopard was fitted with a tracking device so that it and 25 other big cats can be closely monitored.

"The collars will be used in conjunction with cameras that were installed late in 2007 to monitor the movements of leopards in the Gamkaberg and Swartberg Nature Reserves," Tom Barry, Conservation Manager at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve told News24.

Researchers from the Cape Leopard Trust and CapeNature fitted the GPS radio receivers to the first of at least 12 leopards in the reserve. The monitoring will enable the scientists to better understand the health of the ecosystem by the leopards' movements and behaviour, in conjunction with the cameras.

However, given the nature of the terrain and the "shyness" of some of the animals, accurate numbers are not always possible.

Rare attacks

"The camera traps have so far photographed 25 different leopards in a 15 000km², although it is difficult to say exactly what the leopard population of the area is," said Barry.

One difficulty is that leopards may come into conflict with farmers, but officials from The Cape Leopard Trust and CapeNature work with farmers to mitigate against such incidents and there has been success as attacks on livestock have been rare.

"We also need to understand how their habits could impact on the surrounding landowners, in order to find ways to proactively alleviate farmer-predator conflict," said Aneri Vlok, a researcher with the Cape Leopard Trust.

Gareth Mann, a PhD student at Rhodes University, currently conducting this research explained that the electronic equipment on the radio-collar is able to pick up a four hourly GPS reading, of the animal’s location. The data is stored on the collar and downloaded on a regular basis.

Oom Pep was named after a local man who used to walk trails in the area and now British authors, Steve Watkins and Clare Jones have included the Tierkloof trail in the Gamkaberg Nature Reserve in their book, Unforgettable walks to take before you die.

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