THE NAMIBIAN LEOPARD: NATIONAL CENSUS & SUSTAINABLE HUNTING PRACTICES
June 2017 to Present
This project takes a multi-disciplinary approach, inside and outside national parks, by combining ecological methodologies and social science to understand the pressures on, and status of, the leopard population across Namibia.
This project is in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, who state that
“To ensure sustainable utilisation of our wildlife resources for the benefit of current and future generations as provided for in our Constitution, the Ministry of Environment and Tourism supports the research project by the Namibia Professional Hunting Association aimed at understanding the population ecology and dynamics of leopard in Namibia”
The African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) is one of Africa’s most distinguishable big cats. Given the fact that the leopard is a shy, solitary animal, well versed in the art of camouflage, estimates as to its population densities, habitat preferences, movement patterns, habits and distribution are relatively unknown for such an iconic species. As the leopard has such a broad geographical range combined with its cryptic activities there is a limited amount of empirical evidence that exists which in turn can be applied to adaptive management strategies, through practical conservation methods and monitoring across Namibia and Southern Africa.
As a result of limited evidence regarding the Namibian leopard populations, distribution and population dynamics the ability to determine long-term conservation strategies and effective monitoring has been limited. The leopard is highly adaptable and can utilise human dominated environments successfully compared to other large carnivores. However, leopards are under pressure across their range from habitat loss and fragmentation, reduced wild prey availability, and conflict with farmers due to livestock predation and retribution killing. A global human-wildlife conflict study found that the leopard is the leading carnivore conflict species as it featured in the greatest number of human-wildlife conflict case studies. This pattern can be found across Namibia with both freehold and communal farms reporting losses of livestock to leopards. In addition, commercial farmers claim that they have noticed a continual increase in leopard numbers on their farms in tandem to an increase in conflict cases. This situation has been exacerbated by the severe drought that occurred in Namibia from 2015 to 2017 with vast areas of the country yet to fully recover from the effects. As conflict increases so does the number of leopards labelled as problem animals, male or female, being removed from the farmland and in turn the national population. However, a high proportion of the animals removed are not reported to the authorities therefore the level of removal is currently unknown. The long-term sustainability of the leopard population in Namibia relies upon the understanding of all the highly complex dynamic pressures placed on this species and in turn creating viable and effective monitoring systems. The last comprehensive leopard census undertaken in Namibia was in 2010 and was bythe Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
Leopards are now an apex carnivore across the farmland due to the absence of lions and spotted hyaenas in the vast majority of Namibian farmland, the other large carnivores remaining are the cheetah and brown hyaena. However, leopards regularly kill smaller carnivore competitors including cheetah. As such there is a growing line of thought that an increase in the number of leopards in Namibia might be a factor in the perceived decline of the cheetah population in Namibia. As stated leopards are highly adaptable and are successful in marginal habitat whereas the cheetah requires specialised habitat and therefore they are more sensitive to changes in their environment than leopards.
The recent IUCN Red List (2016) change in status for the leopard across its entire range highlights the importance of having rigorous scientific data from individual countries to put forward towards international assessments. As each country, including Namibia, has its own challenges, pressures and legislation that will impact a species, such as the leopard, differently than other countries, even in Southern Africa. It is therefore critically important that rigorous and nationally approved scientific evidence is obtained regularly to be able to drive environmental policy and direction. This ensures that the decision making process is transparent as it is clearly based on the empirical evidence provided.
To conserve large carnivores, it is necessary to understand their abundance in human dominated landscapes, which is where the real conservation action is needed through an interdisciplinary and adaptive approach. Research projects should not only be multi-disciplined but also based outside protected areas and not just focused on one dimension i.e. ecology or diet. As such the Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) has realised the critical importance of conducting a comprehensive, independent and non-partisan study of one of our most valuable natural resources, the leopard, in order to ensure the continued survival of this iconic species in Namibia.
In cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, NAPHA has employed my services to undertake a Leopard: National Censusing & Sustainable Hunting Practices study which will run from June 2017 to December 2018. The information obtained in this study will feed into the Ministry of Environment and Tourism’s national management strategy plan for leopard as well as other national and international studies on the leopard in Africa to ensure its long-term survival, not only in Namibia but across Southern Africa.
CONSERVATIONFIT, PROJECT MANAGER & FOUNDING PARTNER, GLOBAL
May 2016 to August 2017
ConservationFIT is a unique new coalition of conservation partners working together to make footprint analysis available as a new monitoring tool to identify unknown individuals, beginning with three elusive carnivore species; the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), the snow leopard (Panthera uncia) and the jaguar (Panthera onca).
This community-friendly and cost-effective approach allows for non-invasive monitoring of endangered species worldwide, using just footprint images. Focusing first on three iconic endangered big cat species, the project brings together zoos and field-based researchers through the collection and analysis of footprints to help curb this loss. ConservationFIT has distilled the essence of ancient tracking techniques and incorporated it into modern science to create a whole new approach to monitoring endangered species.
Global biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate. In these times of ecological crisis, there’s an urgent need for effective low-cost tools to monitor endangered species and address these conservation challenges. ConservationFIT develops and applies cost-effective and animal-friendly methods to the long-term monitoring and conservation of endangered species worldwide. WildTrack’s award-winning Footprint Identification Technique (FIT) is one such approach. FIT is a cost-effective method for monitoring threatened species for the development of effective conservation management strategies. The accurate and non-invasive FIT uses morphometrics from digital images of footprints to identify individual animals of endangered species.
“This project brings together a unique synergy of ancient bushcraft, modern statistical analysis and citizen-scientists for cost-effective monitoring of endangered species”, Zoe Jewell, co-Founder, WildTrack.
FIT relies on the natural variation occurring in the footpad morphology of a species and uses morphometrics from digital footprint images to enable identification by species, individual, sex and age-class from footprints alone.
"ConservationFIT is enormously exciting. It unites the unique knowledge of those who work in the field with endangered species and modern technologies that can now identify not just species, but individuals and their sexes. That it does so in a non-invasive way is essential when dealing with animals that are so rare”, Stuart Pimm, Doris Duke Professor of Conservation Ecology, Duke University.
From the information produced through FIT, researchers can determine density and distribution of individuals across their study area - the first essential prerequisite for their protection and conservation. Once a baseline is captured long-term monitoring of populations can occur, including determining the effectiveness of conservation strategies on that population. To date FIT, through baseline databases, has been developed for 15 species, ranging from the giant panda to the Bengal tiger. The demand for FIT has continued to grow which has led to the development of this unique new coalition of conservation partners working together to make footprint analysis available as a new monitoring tool for many more species including the jaguar and snow leopard.
This project is looking for individuals either residing in zoos or well monitored wild populations (such as those with GPS collars) as the FIT algorithm requires individual parameters such as sex, age, height, and weight from a minimum of 20 males and females. Without these data from individuals, FIT could not use footprints in the wild to determine population dynamics, density and distribution.
ConservationFIT therefore, provides an opportunity to link zoos and field-based organisations through the collection and analysis of footprints and the singular goal of long-term species conservation globally.
“ConservationFIT is conservation from the ground up, a bold new venture to engage citizens around the world to help compile the world’s first endangered species footprint databases”, Zoe Jewell, co-Founder, WildTrack.
ConservationFIT is excited to continue to build and develop relationships with both zoos and research field-based organisations around the world to conserve multiple species across continents.
CARNIVORE TRACKER APP., CREATOR AND PROJECT MANAGER, NAMIBIA
January 2015 to December 2017
I am Creator and Project Manager of the Carnivore Tracker App. project for the members of the Large Carnivore Management Association of Namibia. The Carnivore Tracker App. has been created for both Apple and Android phones. Carnivore Tracker is a national citizen science driven project which collects presence data for all carnivores across Namibia from the yellow mongoose to leopards and lions. Our aim is that hunters, farmers, tourists, teachers, business men and many more people will use Carnivore Tracker to report their wild carnivore sightings to record their GPS location and contribute to a national database to help focus conservation efforts in the future.
Carnivore Tracker is the first App. of its kind for Namibia.
Carnivore Tracker is a free to download and to use, this application is designed to allow anyone with a smartphone to contribute to the conservation of Namibia’s carnivore species regardless of their background or level of knowledge by simply logging their sightings as they occur. Data or WiFi connectivity is not required as the sightings are stored and uploaded when they become available making it ideal for use in remote wilderness locations where they may not be available.
The data will be used to create a national presence map for Namibia which will allow researchers to identify differences between protected/unprotected areas, human-wildlife conflict hot spots, long-term changes in carnivore populations and in turn where to target much needed conservation action and management. The information will feed into key government departments such as the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, in order to inform carnivore conservation and management strategies across Namibia.
These data sets will be particularly important for those species that live outside of national parks in the private farmland. Carnivore Tracker enables people to connect with the scientific community across Namibia who want to contribute to the collection of essential distribution data to ensure we have accurate and robust data on the distribution and status of the wild carnivore population across Namibia. The data obtained from Carnivore Tracker will be open source as it will upload data into the Environmental Information Service carnivore atlas which contains a long history of carnivore records across Namibia and is Namibia’s leading online knowledge repository.
In return users are able to see their personal sightings on a map of Namibia as a permanent record. To guard against misuse of the App. overall user sightings can only been seen on a limited scale map which will allow people to see a general picture of where various carnivore species can be found without providing a specific location.