Windhoek’s leopards in the spotlight

28 October 2021 | Environment

Lea Dillmann

Around six weeks after a leopard was sighted in Ludwigsdorf near Avis, the Scientific Society and the Namibia Environment and Wildlife Society hosted a lecture headed by wild cat expert Ruben Portas about his experiences with cheetahs and leopards as part of the “InterMuc Leopard Project”.
The project is led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin and the Slovenian University of Ljubljana, where Portas works. With the support of the Auas Oanob Conservancy in Windhoek, Portas has been collecting data on leopards living in the Khomas Hochland for seven years.
Sometimes he gets closer to the wildcats than he would like, he said. However, in the 20 years that the team from the Leibniz Institute has been working with cheetahs and leopards, no team member has ever witnessed a leopard attack, Portas confirmed.
Leopard attacks on humans are rare and are usually associated with the leopard being cornered or injured beforehand.
Whether the leopard spotted in Windhoek needs to be relocated requires serious consideration, Portas said. “We have to be clear that resettlement does not automatically mean more protection for humans and animals. Leopards travel hundreds of kilometres before settling in an area,” Portas said.
Furthermore, it could happen that the leopard does not remain in the territory to which it was released. “Where it ultimately settles depends on whether other leopards are already claiming the area. I estimate the leopard population in Namibia to be very healthy,” Portas said, adding that while there is enough space, there is often not enough free space. “This could lead to power struggles between individual leopards.”
Portas could not rule out a danger for dogs and their owners who like to walk around the Avis dam, however he emphasized that leopards are nocturnal. GPS data shows that leopards prefer to be active shortly before sunrise and then again shortly before sunset to hunt.
Leopards could also be an advantage: Portas’ camera traps recently showed that leopards hunt baboons, although farmers complain about leopards killing their cows. “Yet there are examples in which humans and wildcats live together.”
For example, the Krumhuk farm near Windhoek was able to clearly see the percentage of cows killed through the use of cattle herders who work around the clock.
“In the last four years, in which we use cattle herders and dogs to protect the animals, only two cows where attacked,” Mareike Voigts, who works on the farm, confirmed.
Before there were years with 40 cows that had been attacked.
Portas could not say with certainty how many leopards live around Windhoek, since the amount of data is still too small. “What we know from conversations with Windhoek residents is that leopards have lived near the city for many years. A man once told me about a leopard that was sitting at a bus stop in the city.”

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