Sustainable utilisation of leopard in Zimbabwe

Working towards conserving the leopard in Zimbabwe by developing a national sustainable utilisation strategy.

Leopards are not only beautiful and charismatic wild creatures, but they play a very important part in Africa’s wild areas and are a very valuable wildlife resource. However, because they are nocturnal animals, usually solitary and generally shy, we have very little data about them, which might help us conserve the species and its habitats.

Leopards have recently been upgraded to “near threatened” on IUCN (the World Conservation Union)’s “Red List”. This is largely due to uncertainty over population numbers and loss of leopard habitat.

In Zimbabwe, large numbers of leopards (usually males) are hunted and exported as sporting trophies each year. We do not know what the long-term impacts of this off-take are on the breeding success, survival rate and size of wild populations.

Furthermore, the wild habitat of leopards is disappearing at an alarming rate because of increasing human population and changing land usage in Zimbabwe. It may be that the islands of protection offered by our National Parks are becoming the only suitable refuges available to leopards. However, in these areas, they have to compete with other predators like lions and this may have long-term consequences on their overall population dynamics.

We need to gather a lot more information before we can effectively protect and conserve our leopards for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations of Zimbabweans.

Research is underway….

The Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority have officially commissioned this project and entered into a partnership with the Zambezi Society to help implement it. To ensure that the data collected is of the highest quality, the Zambezi Society have subsequently partnered with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WILDCRU) of Oxford University, in order to find out more about leopard populations in Zimbabwe and to assist in developing a Leopard Management Strategy for their future conservation.

This National Leopard Project is being funded by the UK Darwin Initiative, which assists countries that are rich in biodiversity but poor in financial resources to meet their objectives under major global biodiversity Conventions.

Here’s what the project is doing:

  • Carrying out surveys and spoor counts in a variety of National Parks, Safari Areas, conservancies and community farming areas in Zimbabwe to try and find out how many leopards we have
  • monitoring individual leopards using radio-tracking collars and camera trapping techniques
  • measuring the impacts of trophy hunting on leopards in hunting areas
  • making people more aware about leopards, their value as a wildlife resource, the research being carried out on them and the need to conserve them for the future
  • training people from National Parks, Rural District Councils and the Forestry Commission in survey and monitoring techniques.