One leopard free, one dead
In the same week of celebrating the success of a rehabilitated leopard, the N/a’an ku sê Foundation had to learn of the tragic demise of a collared leopard in the Hochveldt district.
Late in October, the foundation announced the successful rehabilitation of a female leopard called Lightning. She came to N/a’an ku sê to be rehabilitated by Dr. Rudie and Marlice van Vuuren, two of Namibia’s best-known conservationists and the founders of the N/a’an ku sê Foundation. It took almost a year of medical care, experienced rehabilitation techniques and committed devotion for the young leopard to regain the peak physical condition required for the safest possible release into the wild.
In 2009 this magnificent big cat was fitted with a GPS collar and released on Kulala but it was not long before she ventured to Neuras, the wine estate in the pre-Namib that belongs to the N/a’an ku sê Foundation. This became Lightning’s home territory.
Re-fitted with a GPS collar on 12 October 2016, Lightning has not only become the most successful N/a’an ku sê release study, but she also holds the record for being the world’s longest monitored free roaming leopard. But further north, trouble was brewing. A free-roaming leopard in the Otjozondjupa region was collared earlier this year to determine whether is was a conflict animal. On the same day that Lightning received her new collar, the Otjozondjupa leopard’s GPS collar stopped sending signals.
Named Spots, this leopard has never been in captivity. “After approximately a week of no GPS updates, the N/a’an ku sê Foundation contacted the farmer on whose land the leopard had initially been tracked. The farmer informed the foundation that a neighbour had recently shot a leopard, and put the N/a’an ku sê team in contact with the farmer.”
The latter informed the trackers that indeed he shot the leopard and destroyed the GPS sender. “I will continue to shoot and kill leopards in the area and, should they have collars, I will destroy the collars too” the farmer allegedly retorted. The N/a’an ku sê Foundation said it performs vital research in the area of human-carnivore conflict mitigation, with GPS collars fitted to free-roaming leopards and cheetahs to understand their movements and behaviour. This then helps to manage conflict between farmers and predators. The foundation also advises farmers how to handle problem animals, and when necessary, will try and relocate the animal. Only in a last resort will a problem animal be destroyed. The loss from the destruction of the collar is very significant to the foundation. A GPS collar costs more than N$40,000. There are also additional costs for field teams and the logistics they require. These have all been lost when the Spots was killed.At Neuras though, peace reigns. “Lightning has never targeted livestock, thus elevating her to the status of a true non-conflict cat – a status that a remarkably high number of free roaming big cats hold, big cats who in the past would have faced tragically unnecessary persecution” the Foundation stated.