Atherstone Nature Reserve

The Panthera conservation organisation conservation organisation have entered into a research partnership with WEI to study the conservation status of leopard populations in the Limpopo region of South Africa.

Limpopo is home to over one third of all of South Africa’s suitable leopard habitat, yet the viability of the leopard population is still unknown. Despite the uncertainty around the population, and the lack of information on numbers of leopard illegally poached, the government continues to issue increasing numbers of leopard hunting permits. Without vital conservation research in this area, the population could be seriously threatened in the future!

A number of key conservation reserves in the area act as vital sanctuaries for leopard. One of these reserves is Atherstone Nature Reserve, which is situated close to South Africa’s border with Botswana. This Reserve has healthy populations of many other big game species, including elephant, rhino, giraffe, buffalo and zebra.

Our first task on the reserve is to get an estimate of leopard population numbers and find out which areas are most important for the species on the reserve. We do this by setting up a network of camera traps throughout the area. These camera traps are remotely triggered when an animal walks by, and can give us important information, especially at night when our survey teams are unable to go out into the field. As each leopard has a completely unique pattern on their coat (a bit like the human fingerprint), the photographs allow our researchers to learn a great deal about the number of different individuals in the reserve, and the age and sex structure of the population. This data also tell us about leopard habitat preferences and will help identify areas where the population might be worryingly low.

The camera traps aren’t just triggered by leopards, we have also taken pictures of hyena, honey badger, elephant, lynx, and cheetah, so you never know what you are going to come across when you check the footage!

The management at Atherstone have also asked our teams to collect data on a number of key indicators of ecological health. Our teams will be collecting information on populations of other mammal species on the reserve via a network of game transects, where groups drive select routes recording the locations, group sizes, sex ratios, and age classes of a multitude of species. Groups will also be asked to help with a number of other projects on the reserve, from road clearing (often to get to our survey sites), to bird surveying with specialist field guides.

Selected Outputs:

Limpopo Leopard Project Progress Report 2014

PantheraLimpopo Tourism & Parks Agency