Leopard (Panthera pardus)
The leopard (Panthera pardus) is the most abundant of the African felids and is widely distributed geographically because of its adaptability. Despite its wide distribution, the leopard is currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list; the species is threatened by habitat fragmentation and degradation as well as by poaching. Research has shown that conflict between leopards and humans—specifically over the depredation of livestock—has resulted in a population decline for leopards; this decline is the case within both unprotected and nominally protected spaces.
As game reserves and other protected areas become increasingly isolated due to land development, trans-boundary issues will become ever more important in the struggle to preserve large carnivore species (Balme et al., 2009). As populations on the Mashatu and surrounding reserves increase, it is natural that some individuals, particularly dispersing males, will investigate territories outside of their natal home range. Although leopards have been studied across a wide range of habitats, there is still a need for further study particularly with respect to management and human conflict.
Leopard research in Mashatu Game Reserve dates back to the early 1980’s, but it was only in 2005 when we initiated an ongoing long-term leopard project. Aspects investigated includes behavioral and feeding ecology, population dynamics, movement patterns, population density estimation, species survival and human conflict mitigation. The use of GPS satellite collars and remote camera trapping have bridged some of the inherent challenges researches face. One particular focus of our leopard research involves a novel approach in using GPS movement data based on spatial statistics.
We also implement Circuit Theory (CT) modeling in an attempt to identify potential leopard corridors within the Greater- Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (GM-TFCA). CT models may allow us to identify corridors (pathways) used by leopards throughout the GM-TFCA. The identification of these corridors can be used to create safe pathways and alleviate potential human-leopard conflict.