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Leopard Mystery Project

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Shayamanzi Wildlife ranch and leopards

22 March 2013

Game farm owners, hunters, business people and conservationists in the game industry will probably always remain divided into two camps regarding leopards: for and against. The ideal would be to find a balance among all the convincing arguments and to study the true, scientific facts about the keeping and behavior of leopards.

Jannie Parsons, owner of Shayamanzi game farm in the Waterberg says leopards have been part of their experience for the past 21 years and for the last ten years they have been occupied with the leopard project. Here, on the farm between Vaalwater and Lephalale (Ellisras), the driving force of the project is to unravel the mystery surrounding the leopard, relying more on facts than perceptions. "In 2001, for a whole year, four students did a full time study of the predators on the farm, specifically focusing on leopards. This project has grown into a major, all encompassing leopard project where technology, and especially cameras, are utilised around the clock in an effort to understand more of the leopards" Jannie explains.

With the technology at their disposal, researchers have for the past five years gathered numerous facts, but just as many questions have arisen. According to Jannie there is enormous opposition against leopards. "It would be interesting to know what exactly the people who take part in the discussions, base their information on. When we show some of our photos, videos and information to the personnel on the farm, who have worked there for 20 years, there is enormous surprise, but also honesty when they say: ´Yes, every time we learn something more about the tiger (leopard), which we didn´t know´."

Shayamanzi´s leopard project is divided into four phases. Each phase is more or less a replica of the the previous phase, differing only in the focus that shifts to a larger area in each phase with different feeding programmes.




This consists of the larger Waterberg bushveld area around the farm. Leopards that are freed and equipped with a GPS collar are monitored and GPS maps are established with data that indicate the leopard´s movements – where, when, how long and how far the leopards move in order to gain insight into their behaviour and movements, and even their conflict with humans. The video clips, photos, GPS data and all other information are used to help solve the mystery surrounding leopards.

Prof J du P Bothma is the scientist on the project and he interprets all the information. These interpretations are posted onto Shayamanzi´s website on a monthly basis. At the moment the researchers are mainly occupied with camera information pertaining to Phase 1.

The similarities and differences of the characteristics of the more than 20 leopards that Shayamanzi has worked with so far are also documented to gain a better understanding of their behaviour. The differences and similarities of each of the four phases, much of which has hopefully been captured on camera, should paint an interesting larger picture of the Waterberg leopard.

According to Jannie it is challenging, difficult, time consuming, very expensive and requires many long hours to obtain any information on the leopards, but it is one of the most meaningful projects he, his family and workers have ever engaged with. "The photos, film material and observations gathered over the past ten years are extremely interesting and exciting."

The unique content that is being captured of the leopards and game, are published monthly on www.leopard.tv in the format of an e-zine (electronic magazine) and pre-taped video clips. Live video material from the video cameras is also available.

Passive holding pens have been built and from this year (2011) interested buyers will be able to see the game via live video images and via pre-taped material and be able to participate in internet auctions. The use of passive holding pens makes the catching and freeing of game easier.



According to Jannie the major question is whether the bushveld has a leopard problem or whether there is simply a lack of creative business models. He says part of the answer is probably contained in the creative packaging of opportunities. "A problem leopard, packaged in a documentary film, an advertisement or something similar seems to be a ´problem´ that can be converted into an opportunity.

To have one of the big five on your farm together with all the other scavengers and predators provides the opportunity for extra, more expensive, exclusive night drives that can be offered to guests, rather than merely having another cold beer or glass of red wine around the fire." From experience he knows that guests don´t talk about the many impala, but they like to tell about the one small genet, civet or bush pig they saw during a night drive. "A predator game farm with antelope and exclusive night drives may potentially be a future business model?"

"Endless life lessons can be learnt from a predator. An animal that should be spared for future generations."

"One wonders why every second letterhead or farm gate has a leopard on its logo if it is problem animal number one. Maybe it is because it is such a beautiful and mysterious animal."

This is one of the reasons that we decided to start with the leopard project on Shayamanzi ten years ago. "They are beautiful, mysterious and exciting to research and to photograph. It is a predator from which many life lessons can be learnt. An animal that should be spared for future generations."


(Read about Phase 4: Leopard Wild in next month´s edition...)

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