How will we do this?
The project is using a combination of different methods to carry out the research:
SPOOR COUNTS – where tracks of leopard are counted along roads and used to estimate population densities.
These are being conducted by The Zambezi Society and the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority in selected areas around the country with the ultimate aim of giving an overall leopard population indicator. In 2010 the project focused on the Western and South-western areas of the country. In 2011 spoor surveys were conducted in the North of the country in Mana Pools National Park, Nyakasanga (Hurungwe Safari Area) and RIFA, Hurungwe/Mukwichi Communal Areas and in the Sapi Safari Area. In 2012 surveys will focus on the NorthWest Dande CAMPFIRE area, and the Chewore Safari Area as well as in the Southern and Central regions of Zimbabwe.
These surveys have been made possible with the generous loan to the Society of a 4×4 Hilux vehicle by Toyota Zimbabwe.
CAMERA TRAPS – to look at how many males, females, adults and young are in an area.
Camera traps are also being used by the team at WildCRU, to gather data on leopard populations in hunting and photographic safari areas
The team are using fixed station camera traps to ‘capture’ photographs of leopards in the study area and employ standard mark-recapture techniques to assess population density as well as population structure. Cameras are set up in pairs (in order to photograph both sides of the animals), in randomised grids of twenty camera trap stations set up to ensure equivalent capture probabilities. Scent lures are used to attract leopards to camera stations. Every leopard has unique natural markings and these can be used to individually identify, age and sex animals and determine social groupings (e.g. number of cubs accompanying females) in the each study area. This data will be contrasted between hunted and non-hunted areas.
REMOTE SENSING RADIO COLLARS – to improve our understanding of how leopards use an area in terms of human presence, prey availability and habitat.
A more intensive collaring study is also being carried out by WildCRU. A sample of individual leopards are being captured and marked with radio-telemetry collars (by qualified research staff using standard capture and handling techniques for the species) in two separate, ecologically identical study areas, one of which is completely protected, the other subjected to trophy hunting. Monitoring of radio-tagged leopards will allow us to assess survival rates of study animals in the two different areas and to contrast population density, space use and social and breeding behaviour (all of which may be impacted by trophy hunting) between the two study sites.
In conjunction with these methods, the Zambezi Society is conducting a public awareness campaign and producing educational materials to encourage safari operators, professional hunters, photographic operators and the general public to assist with collecting and reporting information about leopard populations countrywide.
A series of attractive, illustrated posters have been produced in English, Shona and Ndebele, alerting people to the aims and objectives of the national leopard survey, pointing out how to identify leopards and to differentiate them from cheetahs and servals, and appealing for people to help report leopard sightings to the Society. The posters are being distributed widely throughout Zimbabwe, along with specially-designed leopard sighting report forms.
Click the image to view the poster in full.
The data gathered from this public participation and awareness exercise will be compiled into a comprehensive countrywide atlas of leopard population distribution. Click here to go to our Leopard Atlas Page.
Training in leopard identification and monitoring techniques is an important component of the National Leopard Project. In May 2011, the Zambezi Society and the Zimbabwe Parks Authority (ZPWMA) held a workshop in Hwange National Park to train stakeholders in the conservation industry in carnivore management and monitoring techniques, with special focus on leopards. The twenty one participants were trainee ecologists and rangers from Zimbabwe’s National Parks, Safari Areas and Forestry Commission Areas, CAMPFIRE representatives from Rural District Councils, and staff from the Zambezi Society itself.
A combination of classroom (pictured left) and field work (pictured right) covered the following topics:
- Overview of leopard population biology
- Distribution of leopards in Africa and Zimbabwe
- Overview of techniques used in monitoring carnivores
- Why study/monitor leopards?
- Discussion on use of spoor as a technique to monitor animals including leopards
- Differences between leopard spoor and other cat spoor
- Leopard identification and aging – in the field
- Aging and sex determination from spoor
- Trophy size estimates using spoor
- Spoor data collection
- Spoor data analysis
Further training workshops will be held during the course of the project.