Information provided by: The Leopard Identification Project
The Leopard Identification Project wholeheartedly commends the recent decision of the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa to ban the trophy hunting of leopards for 2016. In fact, we would say that this is a policy that should have been put into place a very long time ago.
The leopard is one of the world’s most beautiful animals, with a coat that attracts the eyes of fashionistas across the globe. But sadly it is for this reason that they are targeted in the fur-trade industry. Over and above this demand, trophy hunting has become a sport for international and local hunters who feel empowered by hunting and killing a big cat as extraordinary as the leopard. We do not support this when we do not know how many leopards exist in South Africa or when it is not properly controlled. At what point do we stop and realise that the unnecessary hunting of this exquisite animal will soon result in its complete extinction?
The Leopard Identification Project aims to directly provide high quality research on population numbers and the distribution of leopards across the African continent in order to identify key areas for conversation. While leopards are rarely spotted by the human eye, which makes it difficult to ascertain a definite population number, we believe that with citizen science, global involvement and technology, it is an obstacle that can be overcome.
We actively collect ‘conservation photographs’ internally and from the public across our various media platforms and our website, where safari-goers can add their leopard photography, alongside the exact date and location of their sighting. These high-resolution photographs are used to carefully ‘ID’ the leopards. This information has enabled us to populate an effective, single-formatted central database, which is the largest of its kind on the African continent. This database simultaneously raises funds and awareness for leopard conservation, and since our inception we have had over 38,000 leopard conservation photograph submissions.
A statement from the Endangered Wildlife Trust was recently released and highlighted that “leopard population sizes and trends are not well understood in many areas. These factors need to be addressed to ensure that trophy hunting does not negatively impact on the long-term survival of leopards in South Africa. As a result, the DEA has recommended that leopard population monitoring is done in key areas and that norms and standards be developed to guide management before any future quota can be considered.”
We are looking to collaborate with various NGOs and work together to pool resources and knowledge. We believe that with the correct technological minds, we can develop software that will help us to understand leopard population sizes and trends in many areas, so that we can ensure the long-term survival of leopards in Southern Africa. Through this software, we aim to be able to monitor leopard populations in key areas constantly into the future.
As Andrew Muir of the Wilderness Foundation said: “We cannot stress enough the need for high quality research on the population numbers, make-up and distribution of leopards, especially in core conservation areas. Leopards are charismatic and an apex species. Until we know population numbers and carrying capacity, we should not hunt them.”
We wholeheartedly agree with his statement and we aim to provide this insight so that scientists can conduct high quality research.
Our first project began in the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa and has now expanded to Southern Africa as a whole. We travel to the areas twice a month in order to ‘ID’ new animals, and we intend to compile such databases for other regions in Southern Africa too – in protected reserves and outside thereof, where leopard populations are endangered as much as our own. Our goal is to continue to make every effort we can in order to save our leopards from extinction, and we only hope that our ever-growing database and continued support from the public helps us do just that!