Friday, August 14, 2009

Leopard in KwaZulu-Natal

Clients of ours saw a leopard today in the Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park -- Yay

Haven't seen one for some time and there is certainly no guarantee that even on a 4 or 5 night visit, that this elusive cat will be sighted anywhere, roaming free within KwaZulu-Natal.

So sad then, to read Tony Carnie's, front page of the Mercury article this morning. Here one fellow has amassed some 150 leopard skins from possibly within KwaZulu-Natal Province over the past few years. That is devastating. That is just one person, there are then the annual permits issued to hunt leopard and the "permission to destroy" a problem leopard permits, then other poachers, accidents? This over and above the survival problem the animals have with habitat degradation, disease, competition mortalities caused by other predators and so on.

We have some of the finest protected areas in South Africa with incredible biodiversity. So many of our protected areas claim to be Big 5 Game Reserves. I am afraid we are not presenting the true picture here. Too many of our clients have been disappointed at the end of their holidays in KwaZulu-Natal, due to not seeing all of these high profile animals, invariably, it is the leopard that is missing from the list. Certainly there are arguments against prioritising the Big 5, but tell that to a foreign visitor, who will for sure be asked if he saw them all, on his return to his friends and family. This "Brag line" is now too well entrenched in the wildlife industry worldwide.

There is a very different story for the Kruger Park area and especially within the Sabi Sand Game reserve properties. I was there last week and within a few days had seen 8 different leopard and many of them more than once - and close. The Big Five on virtually every game drive and certainly every day on the two drives. I confidently send clients to that area knowing that they should return home smiling.

This could be the case here in KwaZulu-Natal as well - we need this province's authorities to turn this carnage of these protected species around. We do have leopard, but generally their ranges exceed the size of the protected areas in which they occur and extend into areas where they can be baited, shot or trapped. With immediate effect, hunting permits should no longer be issued and then the long hard battle vs the poachers should begin in ernest.

Restrict the wearing of genuine leopard hide to Royalty and or those truly entitled to do so by rank. This hierarchy should determine and permit only those entitled to the privilege, to wear leopard skin - what a difference that would make. Take the 150 odd skins seized (as per Tony Carnie's report) have them properly cured and treated and stored by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for diligent sale to this Zulu elite. The value and significance of this badge of rank has been severely downgraded, what with even some cultural villages having their dancers thus attired! Capital should be made of this tragedy, Provincial coffers topped up from what should be a substantial return from these remains of the poached Leopard. Add value to the pelt, so that those entitled to were it may do so with pride, knowing that it had been sourced legally and cost a great deal of money.

In turn the leopard population could increase in numbers and those that have become habituated to vehicular traffic, regularly seen. It's not too late but nearly so. Help to make KZN truly a Big 5 destination.

Any ideas or insights? Should you wish to comment please send mail to

Jeremy Williamson
"I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference."
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