South Africa 23.1.2017 06:45 am

Leopards under the gun

AFP/File / Ishara S. Kodikara<br />the world

AFP/File / Ishara S. Kodikara
the world

Studies show the big spotted cat is in danger, even in so-called protected areas.

The Professional Hunters’ Association of SA (Phasa) has decried the department of environmental affairs’ (DEA) zero quota for leopard hunting for the second year in a row, and warned that sustainable leopard populations could be nonexistent by the time new leopard hunting legislation came into being.

The Norms and Standards for Leopard Hunting would soon be published for public comment, the DEA said earlier this month.

“To the best of our knowledge, there is currently no reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the zero quota for the second consecutive year,” Phasa CEO Tharia Unwin said in a statement.

“DEA’s statistics for 2015 show a legal off-take of only 42, 37 and 36 leopards during 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. This is far less than the approved Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and national quotas and speaks of good selective and sustainable hunting practices,” said Unwin.

“Given the above, it is our humble submission that the total number of leopards taken is probably less than 1% of the country’s leopard populations, if the latter is very conservatively estimated at 5 000 leopards.”

However, two studies, one by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) in 2010 and one by the Scientific Authority of SA (Sasa) in 2015 – based on the EWT report but with updated information – show the leopard (Panthera pardus) may be in more danger than previously thought.

“For the model scenarios tested (ranging from 0-150 leopard hunted), an increase in the Cites quota from 75 to 150 did not increase the risk of extinction of leopards throughout SA over the next 100 years, but did decrease the overall meta-population size from a projected 4 631 with no trophy hunting, to 3 844 with a quota of 75 to 3 196 with the 150 quota, representing a decline from 93% to 64% of the carrying capacity,” said the Sasa report.

The EWT’s Kelly Marnewick said yesterday that the Panthera organisation, which conducts research in some protected areas across SA, had shown using camera traps that the leopard population was on the decrease inside these areas.

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“These are populations protected from persecution, so the assumption is that outside protected areas we have leopards being hunted as well as persecuted, so we can assume these populations are also on the decrease,” said Marnewick.

“The data has shown the leopard is in trouble and this is why there is a zero hunting quota.” Ironically, it seems that neither poaching nor hunting are the biggest threats to the big cats. Both Phasa and the EWT agree independently of each other that farmers protecting their livestock could be the biggest problem faced by the leopard.

“Without any legal offtake, there is no incentive for landowners to tolerate predators preying on small game or livestock, which results in indiscriminate poisoning, trapping and illegal shooting,” Unwin said.

Marnewick said hunters were justifiably unhappy that shooting problem animals threatened the animals’ survival.

“The only difference is that the problem animal offtake – the more shoot, shovel and shutup kind of offtake – is illegal and we can’t control that,” said Marnewick.

Drew Abrahamson of Captured in Africa said she believed hunting of leopard was taking place on a problem animal permit.

“Thing is, you very rarely get a problem leopard and I believe the zero quota is a good one due to the fact that poaching has increased regardless of the zero quota last year,” Abrahamson said.

“So, if you add habitat loss, which is a very big problem, human-wildlife conflict, poaching for parts which we know is big business and sold in the muti markets freely with not too much being done to stop it, then add hunting to the mix, even though it may be 1%, all this adds pressure and it’s not sustainable.”

– amandaw@citizen.co.za

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