May 25, 2009

Leopard Report

Just a quick update on the blog of 28 August, ‘Unwanted Still’, about 2 young leopards that were caught on one of the nearby farms. The farmer did not want them on his property because they were killing his cattle. More precisely it was their mother that killed the cattle.

The 2 youngsters could not be released after they arrived at Moholoholo Animal Rehab since they were too young and would still be with their mother had they been in the wild. We therefore kept them at our centre for a few months until they were old enough to be released.

We were approached by one of the more recently formed conservancies in the Hoedspruit area, the Blue Canyon Conservancy, asking us if we could release these leopards in their conservancy.

This was a perfect opportunity and with Environmental affairs consent we were able to release these beautiful cats in the Blue Canyon conservancy. Various owners from the Conservancy sponsored 2 GPS collars to monitor them within their boundaries as well as outside of the Conservancy.

We named them, Blue Canyon 1 and 2, and released them in the conservancy on 21 February 2009. They went their separate ways immediately and were quick to get out of sight and as far away from us as possible. From that point on we would only see them as dots on a map hidden in their bush surroundings.

As they were still with their mother when they were caught we doubted that they were fully capable of hunting by themselves. They would have that built-in killing instinct but not the technique, so we monitored them closely.

It was not long before Blue Canyon 2 made his first kill, a baby waterbuck. This was thrilling news and we knew he was on his way to becoming another of the rehabs success stories. Usually our only way of knowing if a leopard has killed anything is when they stay on the same spot for more than 6 hours (after dark). They would normally stay with their kill and feed off it for up to 3 days if it suits them.

Blue Canyon 1, however, did not follow this same pattern. He never gave us the slightest clue (inkling) that he had killed anything. He seemed to be the more nervous of the 2 cats and after 7 days with no signs to indicate a kill, we had to conclude that he was simply too nervous to return to his kills, as he would have been starving at that point if he had had no luck.

Blue Canyon 2 is still quite happy within the area he was released and has been staying in an area of about 1000ha in the northern triangle of the conservancy. Blue Canyon 1 again had different ideas. He did not like the area, and possibly had faced some conflict with other predators, for there are lion, hyena and other leopards on the conservancy. He soon moved to the southern end of the conservancy and within a few days had left the conservancy’s boundaries, heading south toward the mountain.

The area he was moving towards was not ‘leopard friendly’ at all and he was in danger.

Blue Canyon 2 continues to reside in the northern side of the reserve and has been closely monitored by Game Ranch Management Services from Hoedspruit to see what he is killing and documenting their finds. To date we believe that 2 waterbuck calves, 4 impala and 2 warthogs have been killed by Blue Canyon 2.

Sadly we have not received any new data from Blue Canyon 1 for the last few weeks. We do not know where he is and there is a chance that he has been killed or the collar malfunctioned. There is also a chance that the collar has come off and that it is lying in a place where there is no cellular coverage and can not send any data back to the server. We sincerely hope that the animal is still alive and is doing well.

At the end of the day we were glad we were able to give these young leopards a chance to go back to the wild, and whilst every release holds much uncertainty for the future, the wild is where these beautiful creatures belong, and for as long as we can find suitable habitat to release them in, our work will continue with the species!

We will be sure to keep you posted on these young leopards story! For more information on Moholoholo visit the website.

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