I didn’t see any leopards on my trip to the Cederberg but I didn’t feel too bad as my guide, a staff member of the Cape Leopard Trust for over 8 months, also had never seen one, until just a few days ago. However I did meet some lovely people who have dedicated the last decade of their lives to saving the elusive leopards that call this place home.
I was gathered with the team of the Cape Leopard Trust, and many of their loyal supporters, for their ten year anniversary celebrations. We were celebrating the success of the trust over a delicious potjie and a bottle (or two) of Leopard’s Leap wine (sponsor of the Cape Leopard Trust) on the very same farm where Quinton Martins, co-founder of the Cape Leopard Trust, married his wife, Elizabeth, who is now the trust’s education and outreach coordinator.
While many of us may find it hard to understand, the Cape leopard, along with other wildlife like caracal and jackal, was virtually killed off in this area due to human-livestock conflict. It is the Cape Leopard Trust’s aim to prevent this from happening by teaching locals the importance of conservation, seeking viable solutions to the problem and by performing research on the area and its wild inhabitants. Over the last few years the Cape Leopard Trust has helped to put a stop to these indiscriminate leopard and predator killings thanks to the investment in research and the work that has been done in partnership with local landowners to reduce human/wildlife conflict through better education.
The one thing that strikes me every time I visit the Cederberg is the sheer vastness of space in this part of the world. Not only are the rock-formations staggering to even begin to comprehend how they formed and stay put without toppling over, it always amazes me how little human life as actually impacted the area and thus is is still shocking to hear that even here we are still the biggest threats to the wild animals of the area.
In fact the area is so sparsely inhabited that rock-art has been preserved here for thousands of years, with new sites still being discovered (in fact our guide was even shown a new site right underneath his nose that he never knew existed).
But turn a corner and there is the evidence of “modern” human kind with a little “rock art” of our own as the names of D.F. Malan and even P.W. Botha are scribbled on a wall of the cave known as Stadsaal; where the politicians of past used to meet in what became known as nature’s city hall.
Days before we arrived for the Cape Leopard Trusts 10 year anniversary celebrations, the team had managed to capture and collar the leopard, Titus. The team had been aware of the leopard’s presence for over three years as the leopard’s footprints and scat where found around their base in Matjiesriver however he had become known as the “phantom cat” due to his cunningly elusive nature. But one evening the leopard-friendly foot-loop trap triggered, the necessary research was conducted on this perfect male specimen and an hour later Titus sauntered off into his domain – his new collar ready to relay vital data back to the team at the Cape Leopard Trust – reason enough to celebrate I say!