A home away from home: insights from successful leopard (Panthera pardus) translocations
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- Weise, F.J., Lemeris, J., Stratford, K.J. et al. Biodivers Conserv (2015) 24: 1755. doi:10.1007/s10531-015-0895-7
When protected carnivores harm people’s livelihoods, conservationists often seek non-lethal mitigation strategies. Large carnivore translocation is one such strategy but it has shown limited success. Many reported examples used methods that likely contributed to their failure. We conducted six leopard (Panthera pardus) translocations (three males, three females) within Namibia to test specific criteria for improved protocols. We moved leopards 402.7 km (SD = 279.6 km, range 47–754 km). Overall translocation success, using strict criteria, was 67 % and increased to 83 % when post-release conflict was not considered in this assessment. Four individuals successfully established new territories after exploratory periods of <2 months. One female died in a road accident shortly after release and a male resumed killing livestock that were illegally herded within a protected area. Both surviving females produced cubs—the ultimate sign of success. When compared with resident leopards (six males, six females), translocated individuals showed no significant difference in range behaviour, survivorship or likelihood of conflict. At their capture sites, livestock depredation ceased for a minimum of 16 months, thus at least temporarily alleviating conflict. We used our successful protocol to develop a translocation suitability model for determining appropriate release sites. For Namibia, this model predicts potential recipient habitat of 117,613 km2, an area sufficient to support up to 87 leopard translocations. Where alternative conservation strategies have failed and managers decide to proceed with translocations, we recommend the application of our conservative protocol to identify the most suitable recipient locations. Our study demonstrates the potential value of translocation under specific circumstances and as part of a larger conflict management repertoire. Our findings are useful for management of other large carnivores and conflict wildlife.