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Lyss

Leopard Projects

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I've know there are many projects and research groups for almost every animal in the Mara. Heck we saw the Martial Eagle Masai Mara Project on safariLive today, but I've not found any for leopards. I know they are elusive and sometimes hard to find, but why is it no one is studying them in that area? Lions have their own websites and cheetah have at least 3 different projects alone as do the hyena. If I could afford to live the life of a researcher and do all that I would definitely do it, but I can't and my focus would be on leopard. I think it's a bit of a shame there isn't one, at least one that I've found. Is there a leopard project in the Masai Mara?

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~ @Lyss

 

Funny, I'd had a similar question in my mind last week.

 

Reading a research paper about threats to leopards being underestimated, I wondered what projects monitor them in Kenya.

 

Thank you for this timely question.

 

Tom K.

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@Lyss:

 

I'm interested in your comments on leopard research, noting that you class yourself as a wildlife photographer, artist and researcher.  I was wondering, therefore, what sort of research you'd like to see undertaken that would assist management better to conserve the species of interest.  Single species research appears mainly to involve collaring, tracking and monitoring, but I'm not sure that this is very useful.  I suppose that you may be concerned about lack of prey species (unlkely in the Mara), deaths by predators higher up the guild (lions and man) or by disease (which may be impractical to control).  I was wondering where your priorities would lie.

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~ @douglaswise and @Lyss

 

What's intrigued me about Mara leopards, is the notion that they may be more generalists than leopards elsewhere.

 

Veteran guides at a lodge several years ago expressed the view that few Mara leopards were specialists in a particular prey.

 

They noted that in their experience there were particular leopards elsewhere which tended to specialize in, say, warthogs, or ground squirrels.

 

In Sabi Sands, South Africa rangers often commented that given leopards were specialists, based on what they'd observed over the years.

 

I've wondered if the sheer abundance of available prey species is such that Mara leopards have no need to become specialists.

 

Or, are they somewhat specialists but perhaps they're insufficiently observed as individuals with prey to establish that.

 

This topic was used as a hypothetical situation in a group discussion last semester. Students were asked to consider research design other than camera traps, collaring or anything invasive.

 

Their proposals often featured drone observation, as that's the method-of-choice in their technologically-savvy minds.

 

I asked how they might feel if they were a leopard sitting on a sheltered tree branch, enjoying a meal, when a buzzing drone appeared.

 

In any case, the prospect of Mara leopard research is daunting.

 

Tom K.

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@Tom Kellie:

 

You raise an intriguing academic question.  However, the previous point I was attempting to make was that a search for its answer would require financial investment, but is unlikely to have practical management implications.  This seems to apply to a lot of ongoing wildlife research in Africa and may represent competition for funding which could better be used to provide protection for threatened habitats which are currently woefully short of funding.  By the same token, I would suggest that elephant orphanages are also an unnecessary distraction from conservation as I understand it.

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Dear @douglaswise have you seen any research-and thus presumably evidence-that research projects in Africa drain resources from projects to save threatened habitats? or indeed that elephant orphanages  distract from conservation? you do not consider that an elephant orphanage might act as a valuable indicator and publicist to the more general public thus attracting funds for other conservation projects? mind you I've not seen any research that backs that up. 

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@Tom Kellie - a non-invasive way more and more predators are being studied is via collecting and archiving scat samples.  Such samples allow for genetic analysis of individuals and detailed fact-gathering about diet, which can potentially yield other insights.   Scat can also reveal toxins in a species' diet that may be affecting individuals or populations.  And presumably the presence/absence of certain diseases. 

 

Gathering hair samples is also useful for genetic analysis and determining things like the animals' home range size in various habitats.  Like bears, I would imagine it's possible to collect Leopard hair samples from rubbing posts / "message trees".

 

Simply gathering lots of scat and hair samples, recording exact location, and archiving them for later can yield future insights that may not be considered at the time of the research project / field effort.

 

Here is an example of how collecting things like scat samples can pay off in the future in unpredictable ways:  

 

Barn Owl pellets are regurgitated wads that contain the undigested bones (and hair) of prey.  These bones can usually be identified to species.  One of my mentors (Will Post) partnered in a study that examined Barn Owl pellets from the southern fringe of the range of Meadow Voles (Microtus  pennsylvanicus) on the Atlantic coast of the USA.   By examining lots of Barn Owl pellets, they were able to precisely determine which barrier islands had extant Meadow Vole populations and which did not - thus exactly nailing down the precise southern limits of the vole species' current range.

 

Here is a brief paper Will and his collaborator published on the subject:

http://www.fosbirds.org/sites/default/files/FFNs/FFNv40n4p117-122.pdf

 

As @douglaswise pointed out, financing is always a hurdle for research projects and it is wasteful when 'frivolous' projects deplete grant money, budgets, or volunteer resources that more worthwhile projects could use.  The good thing is that collecting scat, hair, etc. is a low-cost endeavor that can be done in the course of other duties or regular activities.

 

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@Towlersonsafari:

 

The answer to your question is no.  That is why I wrote "may represent" and not "does represent".  In a previous debate, I acknowledged that orphanages may produce funding over and above that needed to run them and generate profit for owners thereof.  However, I suspect that this extra funding is likely to go to to animal protectionist- rather than to conservation-based causes.  I accept that, in areas where there is a serious poaching problem, the causes may overlap.

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@offshorebirder:

 

I think you have made very good, relevant and valid points.

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to come back to the original question:

 

I think, one reason could be reason that leopards are most likely the less threatended of all the big carnivore species, not only in Africa but globally, Maybe scientists and researchers prefer to focus on species close(r) to extinction (which would make sense, to me at least)

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Posted (edited)

If I were able to do a leopard specific research program. I would try to base it on figuring out the real population of leopards and what their territories are like in a place like the Mara and the conservancies. I would also like to know if female leopards in the Mara also give parts of their territories to their daughters once they become independent. Do the territories fluctuate over time?  I've heard that because the lion and hyena population is so high the leopard population tends to be smaller, but when I look at my group we've been able to find 38 different leopards so far and we just met a new male leopard that I've yet to ID. I have a hard time believing they are so few.
 

@ice I don't think anyone truly knows where leopards stand in Africa, and if they have different ranks in different countries. I know South Africa banned leopard hunts again this year because there is insufficient data to support the allowance of a hunt. I'm honestly okay with this, but that's my own opinion. I think people down play the leopard, because no one really knows. Plus there is no generalized place for leopard information. Whether it's on individual animals or country specific. Panthera is conducting experiments in the Sabi Sands by collecting scat to better understand how leopard genetics works.

 

Collecting hair, scat and other evidence of leopards it could also help understand how leopards move. Leopards I believe are all specialists in something, but will go for anything they can find. The male Tingana specializes in warthogs and being able to dig them out of burrows. Another male Quarantine has found a knack for taking male kudu. Then there are leopard who have learned to fish for catfish in Botswana. I've seen the photos of leopards that have learned to wait at the crossings and take down a yearling wildebeest. Leopards are by nature secretive and therefore unless habituated tend to slink off before being viewed, but leopards are also habitual. There is a dominant male leopard named Tingana in the northern Sabi Sands and when tracking him the guides can almost predict where he will go on his patrols as he takes almost the exact same routes through the area.

 

I think I'd be more interested in knowing because the amount of prey that is available does the Mara and it's conservancies then support a higher than normal population of leopards? If I had to collar a leopard not sure I'd be okay with it because to me that's just more stress and unnecessary risk than there needs to be. I'm the type of person who would rather observe a leopard and document it while it's doing its' own thing before making it easy on myself and put a tracker on the animal.

 

That's how it would start. I wouldn't want to make the program overly complicated, but I would love to work in conjunction with the different lodges and safari guides to learn the leopards find out what they know, and consolidating that information into a centralized place so that not only is it available to the general population of animal lovers but it's also available to researchers and guides and those like me who want to know the subject they are photographing. I like putting a name to a face. It connects me more to the subject.

 

 

Edited by Lyss
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5 minutes ago, Lyss said:

...but when I look at my group we've been able to find 38 different leopards so far and we just met a new male leopard that I've yet to ID.

 

~ @Lyss

 

By “my group” this is a group in South Africa...or in Kenya?

 

Please forgive me that I'm slightly mixed-up as to where this might be.

 

Tom K.

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Posted (edited)

@Tom Kellie If you look in my signature, "Leopards of the Mara" is my Facebook group that I started once I learned that safariLive would be heading there in May. I wanted to know what characters we could potentially see. It focuses only on Mara leopards and those found in the conservancies. I do not run the Leopards of the Sabi Sand or Kruger groups. Those were created a long time ago.

 

I talk about leopards of the northern Sabi Sands, because those are the leopards I know intimately, because of safariLive.

Edited by Lyss
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~ @Lyss

 

Thank you so much for the helpful explanation.

 

The country in which I work and live doesn't have any access to FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, the New York Times or any Google site.

 

Therefore I'm regrettably unable to ever view any material on those sites, as well as dozens of other “foreign” Web sites.

 

I have never heard of “safariLive” before. In fact, I couldn't guess what it might be.

 

Being out-of-touch, fairly ignorant and inexperienced, what you've so kindly explained is of great value to me.

 

I really appreciate knowing about your research work.

 

Tom K.

 

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1 hour ago, Lyss said:

I would also like to know if female leopards in the Mara also give parts of their territories to their daughters once they become independent.

 

According to Johnathan Scott and his observations (in Mara North Conservancy) of Leopards like Half-tail, her daughter Shadow, and granddaughter Safi - the answer is "yes". 

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I actually did a post about safariLive and WildEarth. They are one in the same. It's a bit of a comprehensive rundown of what it is.

 

That really stinks that you are so limited to what you can view on the web. That doesn't help when you want to learn about a subject in further detail or see the work of others. I'm glad my explanations are helping you. @Tom Kellie

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7 minutes ago, offshorebirder said:

 

According to Johnathan Scott and his observations (in Mara North Conservancy) of Leopards like Half-tail, her daughter Shadow, and granddaughter Safi - the answer is "yes". 

I figured they did as I watched the Big Cat Diary series that really is what got me interested in leopards. Johnathan was my favorite presenter he talked like the viewer was an equal not as one who didn't know the difference between a Jaguar and a Leopard.

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