Leopards have been persecuted in the Eastern Cape for the last 300 years the result being a decline in numbers and fragmented populations, and so placing the local population at risk of extinction. Virtually the entire landscape was hostile to them, and leopards survived in only the most isolated areas. Recently attitudes towards large predators have shifted, and leopards are now legally protected. There has also been a recent shift in land use, with an increasing number of private nature reserves which complement the national parks in supporting conservation of biodiversity.
Kariega Game Reserve is one of the oldest of these private nature reserves. These shifts suggest that the landscape is now more leopard-friendly, with decreased persecution and increased areas of safety. Our leopard project therefore aims to assess the status of leopards in the Lower Albany area and investigate the role of the Kariega Game Reserve as a refugee habitat for leopards, which may move across the Lower Albany area. We are fortunate to have the support of the Centre for African Conservation Ecology of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on this project.
Currently we are trying to establish how many leopards occur on Kariega Game Reserve. We have movement sensor cameras in place on the reserve and the volunteers working on gap year projects are responsible for monitoring these cameras, changing memory cards and recording all images taken. The cameras are moved regularly all around the reserve to increase the chance of leopard sightings.