There’s been plenty of talk about the “return of nature” during lockdown. The camera-trap photograph of the leopard at Paardeberg’s Kalmoesfontein (Badenhorst Family Wines) might have come across your newsfeed recently.
The Swartland is of course no stranger to nature-lovers. The region with its open skies, uncluttered hills and mountains have always been the ideal break-away bolt hole. Farmstays don’t only bring you closer to this fresh air, but also the region’s fragile biodiversity.
This in mind, we thought it an opportune time to talk to the Cape Leopard Trust, the predator conservation group active in parts of the Swartland. It is just one of the organisations along with the Landmark Foundation and Cape Nature engaged in conservation in the region.
Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) Communications and Media Manager (and wildlife biologist) Jeannie Hayward says they’re currently actively involved towards the extreme north of the Swartland area, in the mountainous region between Piketberg, Aurora, Redelinghuys and Citrusdal. “Here, we run a large-scale survey involving a total of 128 field cameras deployed at 64 independent locations, over an area of 1 500 km².
“The aim is to learn more about leopard numbers and population density in this region. The cameras will remain operational until end November 2020, and during this time leopard scat samples are also collected for dietary analysis.”
Among local farms allowing access and assistance to the CLT Piketberg team running the camera survey include Moutons Valley Farm / Piquet Buchu; Steenebrug Farm (Suiderland Plase); and, Schenkfontein/Winkelshoek wine cellar. Further afield, they include Skimmelberg Buchu & Rooibos; and, Khoisan Gourmet Tea.
On the Paardeberg and surrounding foothills, a few private landowners have had camera traps over the past approximately eight years, with varying success in terms of leopard photographs. The Kalmoesfontein image was taken by the Badenhorst’s own camera set-up.
“My brother in law had a camera and we decided to set it up in a nearby kloof because we’d come across animal tracks,” says Adi Badenhorst.
“That photograph of the leopard was the first night it was up. Now, we get its picture two to three times a week.
We were just curious, but also feel it’s useful in showing the environmental thing we’re doing on the farm.”
The photographs are supplied to the CLT.
Schenkfontein’s participation in conservation over a long period has involved a few organisations, currently the CLT. “Stock losses due to leopards make them controversial among many livestock farmers, but we recognise the importance of managing the relationship with them,” says Philip Hanekom, who heads up operations with brother Hendrik and father, Hennie.
We asked Jeannie about the notion of nature making a comeback as suggested in social media. Jeannie points to her own recent blog post [accessible here]. The bottom line is a plea for caution.
“What these reports and articles fail to convey is that leopards have always been here – they have been caught on camera multiple times before and these sightings do not necessarily have anything to do with the lockdown . .
It must be added that it is indeed entirely possible for leopards to be a bit bolder…”
In conclusion, she writes:
“Perhaps we could all use this time of lockdown to reflect on how we perceive the wild spaces around us and how we should conduct ourselves in these spaces, knowing that wildlife like leopards and so many other species were there first – and our actions are driving them closer and closer to the edge of existence.”
The work of CLT can be supported in various ways.
- Follow the CLT on its website [capeleopard.org.za] and social media, and spread awareness.
- Drive carefully, especially in wilderness areas.
- On farms and large properties, refrain from hunting agricultural or garden “pests” like porcupine, grysbok, duiker and dassie – these are leopards’ main prey; and, adopt holistic livestock husbandry that avoids conflict with leopards.
- The Cape Leopard Trust is a not-for-profit, Public Benefit Organisation, and fully reliant on private donations, corporate funding and academic grants. For more information, visit the CLT website [capeleopard.org.za].
Get a picture
The CLT provides guidance on camera models and set-ups should private landowners want to erect their own. Data can be used to monitor biodiversity on a property, providing a reliable index, and contribute to leopard data for CLT’s long-term monitoring database.
Look out for snares
Illegal hunting with wire snares usually occurs on properties bordering mountainous land. Look out for them as well as other types of traps and feral dogs, and aid CLT research by reporting them via app.capeleopard.org.za.
Landowners and managers can help curb the problem by amongst others educating workers, neighbours and contractors and patrolling for snares.
Plan your next visit to the Swartland
Itching to get back to the Swartland Wine and Olive Route? Start planning now. Visit the websites of Cape West Coast Tourism [www.capewestcoast.org]; Malmesbury Tourism [www.malmesburytourism.co.za]; Piketberg Tourism Bureau [www.piketbergtourism.co.za]; Porterville Tourism Bureau [www.portervilletourism.co.za]; and, Riebeek Valley Tourism [www.riebeekvalley.info].