Leopards in the mountains behind Sabie

Sightings of leopard are quite common in the mountains behind Sabie.

Cyclists competing in the various cycling events over the years have not infrequently come across leopard near the mountain trails, especially near Maritzbos. On one occasion they encountered a leopard in one of the cuttings there unperturbedly walking in the opposite direction. It made way as the cyclists determinedly carried on with their race.

Recently one of Sabie’s residents saw a leopeard casually sauntering down the road next to his fence in Engelhard Park. Apparently they’ve been seen in the forest behind Mount Anderson as well.

Timber contractors have seen leopard over time, and in fact reported a sighting of Black leopard at Maritzbos a number of years ago.

Recent reports on stock losses in the mountainous area behind Sabie towards Pilgrim’s Rest have surfaced, and concerned parties are sure it is Leopard. One farmer has lost 4 Stud Drakensberger calves in no less than 4 months and another farmer 3 calves in one month!

According to the farmers concerned, Leopard spoor has been found near the carcasses. One calf that managed to escape was partially mauled and badly scratched – fortunately the calf survived after it was treated by the farmer ! According to them the financial loss runs into many thousands of rand’s !

The ecological value of these predators cannot be over emphasized though, and they need to be conserved at all costs! However we must also be aware of the stock farmers plight and a win-win situation needs to be reached to protect the farmers interests !

Leopards prefer indigenous species to prey on, but where natural prey has been reduced, they could begin to prey on livestock. They have strong jaws and long canines and typically kill by biting the back of the neck but will also bite down on the throat. Their nails are sharp and retractable and multiple scratch marks may be seen, indicating where the front claws grabbed the prey to hold it down. They can drag their prey considerable distances and it has been recorded that they can drag a carcass (calf) up to 3 kilometres from the original killing site. They also hide the carcasses either under a bush, in a thicket, down a hole or up a tree(Smuts).

Feeding behaviour includes eating the haunches, shoulder and internal organs but the intestines are removed and left intact. Hair may also be removed on certain parts of the carcass and rib ends may be chewed and in smaller animals the thigh bones are also eaten leaving hardly any remains! Leopards return quite frequently to their kills and where hyena are present, they will carry the kill up a tree (Smuts). The following non-lethal methods can be used to control these predators:

Guardians: Anatolian Shepherds & Donkeys, Human, (also Llama or Ostrich-very effective). Protective Collars: King and Dead Stop – very effective. Management: Kraaling, Lambing/Calving Season, Lambing/Calving near homestead (Smuts)

Removal by using cages/live-traps is proven to very effective and successful. Poison controls are NOT recommended. Hunting dog packs are NOT recommended, as it is neither selective nor humane. Log-hold devices / gin traps should NOT be used (Smuts).

Of all the cat species, the leopard is the animal that evokes the most emotion and passion with ecologically minded activists. As such it, and the cheetah, have played an important role in the debate around developing ecologically sound, holistic non-lethal methods of control for predators !

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