A home away from home: insights from successful leopard (Panthera pardus) translocations

Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

We thank the MET for research permits as well as logistical support. Research at N/a’an ku sê was in part funded by grants from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative (Grant Numbers: B10-11 and B12-13). We thank Chester Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Sea World and Busch Gardens, SPOTS Foundation, Land Rover SA, Bank Windhoek, IDEA WILD and individual sponsors for financial and technical support. Carnivore research at Ongava Research Centre is funded by charitable donations from The Namibian Wildlife Conservation Trust (UK), West Midland Safari Park, the directors of Ongava Game Reserve, and the Zoological Society of Philadelphia. A. B. S. was funded by a J. William Fulbright Scholarship. We sincerely thank all management and staff on release reserves for assistance during translocations and monitoring. We thank research assistants, P. Gerngross and J. Vaatz for their contributions and A. Bowden for assistance with mapping. Comments from S. Pimm, M. Jones and two anonymous reviewers improved the quality of this article.

Animals

Research activities and management of animals were endorsed by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism in Namibia. Leopards were studied under permit numbers: 691/2003; 916/2005; 990/2005; 1254/2008; 1354/2009; 1459/2010; 1459/2011; 1748/2012; 1782/2013; 1843/2013; and 1888/2014.

Compliance with ethical standards and Conflict of Interest

Author Andrew B. Stein was funded by a J. William Fulbright Scholarship and received research equipment (tracking collars) from the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia. Author Florian J. Weise received research Grants from the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative (Grant Numbers: B10-11 and B12-13). Authors Florian J. Weise, Rudie J. van Vuuren and Stuart J. Munro received research equipment from Chester Zoo (UK), Colchester Zoo (UK), Sea World and Busch Gardens (USA), SPOTS Foundation (NL), Land Rover SA (RSA), Bank Windhoek (NAM), IDEA WILD (USA) and received additional financial support from private sponsors. Author Ken J. Stratford’s work was funded by charitable donations from The Namibian Wildlife Conservation Trust (UK), West Midland Safari Park, the directors of Ongava Game Reserve, and the Zoological Society of Philadelphia. The authors declare that they have no further conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Stuart Pimm.

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Weise, F.J., Lemeris, J., Stratford, K.J. et al. A home away from home: insights from successful leopard (Panthera pardus) translocations. Biodivers Conserv 24, 1755–1774 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10531-015-0895-7

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Keywords

  • Panthera pardus
  • Relocation
  • Conservation planning
  • Conflict management