The Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) Research team is thrilled to report that our new camera survey of the Cederberg is well underway. The Cederberg is the birthplace of the CLT, and returning our camera grid to this unbelievable wilderness is always a thrilling prospect. Previous surveys confirmed that leopards in this region, like elsewhere in the Western Cape, occur at a much lower population density compared to leopards in the Savannah biome. The aim of the current survey is to obtain an up-to-date population density estimate, which will be compared to previous values. This will enable us to track changes in the Cederberg leopard population over time, and, if applicable, to apply the necessary conservation interventions in partnership with the local community and conservation organisations.

The current survey consists of 67 paired camera stations distributed across ± 2000 km2 of the Cederberg landscape, and is being conducted in collaboration with CapeNature – with 26 stations falling within the Algeria, Matjiesrivier and Kliphuis Nature Reserves. The remaining 41 stations are on private properties involving 15 different landowners. As always, the CLT is extremely grateful for the willing participation of landowners in granting us access to do our research, and in some cases even assisting us with fieldwork by servicing the cameras on their property, like Bushmans Kloof. Many establishments are also supporting the research team with sponsored and discounted accommodation, for which we are very thankful!

The setup of the survey was not without its challenges… The majority of camera stations were deployed early in June – just before the massive floods of mid-June cut large parts of the Cederberg off from the outside world. This resulted in a tense few weeks for the research team, all the while wondering how many cameras were lost in the unprecedented flooding… Care is always taken to not set cameras where the risk of flooding is too high, but in this case, rivers and streams rose to unexpected and record-high levels. The field teams visited the Cederberg during the last two weeks of July to service the cameras and assess the damage. In the end, the data from eight paired camera stations were lost – seven stations were completely inundated and the cameras stopped working shortly after deployment, and one station washed away entirely – the steel droppers and steel camera housings are yet to be found… Most of the memory cards in the flooded cameras were still readable, and the images tell the story of intense rain and rapidly rising waters. Some underwater shots were even taken as a few cameras bravely continued snapping photos until the electronics got too wet!

flooded cam traps

But these camera and data losses pale in comparison to the massive damages incurred by virtually all landowners and communities in the Cederberg – with huge destruction to roads and bridges, campsites, housing infrastructure, water and electricity supply, and agriculture. The Cederberg community showed unbelievable resilience in the face of this adversity, and promptly organised themselves to start repairing access roads and integral infrastructure. The CLT is proud to collaborate with such an amazing community of people.

damage to roads

On a positive note, the first batch of 37235 images have already been downloaded from the intact cameras and leopards have been recorded at 30 of the sites. We are thrilled to share some fieldwork and animal highlights with you in the photo gallery below!

We would like to thank Hi-Tec SA for equipping our field teams with quality footwear and gear. We are also enormously thankful to Ford Wildlife Foundation for our sponsored Ranger, and to the Land Cruiser Club – Southern Africa for keeping Witblitz, the CLT Cruiser, in tiptop shape. Reliable off-road vehicles are an indispensable part of field-based research – and nowhere is this truer than in the vast wildlands of the Cederberg!

The CLT’s research in the Cederberg is made possible by funding from Jamma International.

Watch this space for upcoming exciting updates and results!

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