Ecology and conservation of the leopard (Panthera pardus Linnaeus 1758) in northcentral Namibia
The conservation of large carnivores is dependent on comprehensive research programs within and surrounding protected areas. In many locations, protected areas are not large enough to support viable large carnivore populations, and thus it is essential to understand the ecology of predators outside of protected areas. On the commercial farms of northcentral Namibia, farmers have systematically removed the largest predators in order to protect their livestock. Leopards are the largest remaining carnivore, aided by their adaptable and secretive nature. In order to properly manage regional leopards, there were several questions about their population size, feeding ecology and movements that needed to be addressed. Leopard population estimates were generated through camera-trapping surveys within and surrounding the Waterberg Plateau Park. These surveys suggest that leopard population density is significantly higher outside of the park, most likely due to environmental factors within the park that limit potential prey. Leopards were shown to primarily feed on wild ungulates, preferring kudu over livestock which they appear to avoid even when livestock densities are higher than individual wild ungulate species. Leopard home ranges and movements were investigated on commercial farmlands where they were not shown to move between the farms and the park. Home range estimates were similar to previous studies for similar environments with marginal resources. Beyond the ecological studies, the attitudes and perceptions of farmers were incorporated into the study in order to assess local predator management with particular emphasis on leopards. Farmers used a variety of livestock husbandry techniques, with varying success. Although there were no clear techniques to reduce conflict, farmers were able to substantially reduce losses by using at least one technique to protect their stock against predators. Farmers listed depredation as the source of highest livestock loss, and leopards the species which caused the most conflict by occurrence. Farmers removed approximately 11 leopards per year in the region which is equal to a 14% off-take for the local population. Farmer tolerance was assessed by the % calf loss that farmers were willing to lose to predators annually. Tolerance rates were then compared to annual livestock loss. Leopards, being a charismatic animal for tourists and trophy hunters, were evaluated for potential financial benefits for farmers to mitigate losses. Region-wide management strategies are discussed.