Long, long ago elephant, rhino, eland, lions and leopards roamed across the Cape. Today the only one of these species left in the wild is the Cape Leopard (Panthera pardus) which inhabits the Cederberg and Boland mountains. These magnificent leopards have been under increasing threat as some farmers trap and shoot them for killing sheep while urbanization and agriculture have encroached their natural habitat.
The Cape Leopard Trust was established In 2004 to protect the Cape leopard through research, education and finding alternative methods for farmers to protect their livestock. There are two projects, one based in the Cederberg, while the other one stretches across the Boland from Beaverlac Nature Reserve and the Groot Winterhoek Wilderness (near Porterville) in the north, right down to the Kogelberg Nature Reserve (Betty’s Bay & Kleinmond region) in the south – covering a total area of over 3000 km2.
A major focus of the research has been to place cameras with motor sensors up in the mountains. Many of the Cape vineyard owners have participated in the programme by funding and monitoring cameras on their farms. Each leopard has a unique pattern of spots, so it is possible to identify each and every leopard. Some leopards are humanely trapped, given a GPS collar and then released back into the mountains. Although the Cape leopard is only half the size of the African leopard, we now know that it covers a much greater territory than its bigger cousin. Males in the Cederberg have been monitored over a distance of up to 1000 km2.
To date, over 50 adult and sub-adults have been photographed by the motion cameras in the Boland project, mainly at night, and the scientists are delighted that the animals appear to be thriving. This is in part due to the huge conservation efforts that have been made in the Cape Winelands, and with swathes of natural habitat being restored, the smaller animals making up the leopard’s diet have multiplied. The leopard is the apex predator so happily, it seems that the ecosystem in the Cape Winelands is moving towards a sustainable balance.
Our wine estates are justifiably proud of “their” leopards and use the photographs taken by their cameras in their marketing material. Audiences around the world are fascinated by this evidence of sustainable practices in action. Leopard’s Leap Vineyards are big supporters of the Trust and, to date, the company has “adopted” 9 leopards from the project. The labels on their Lookout range of wines feature the stunning leopard sculpture that is outside their tasting room in Franschhoek. The leopard also features on the Graham Beck The Game Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and a percentage of the sale of every bottle in the range is given to the SA Wilderness Foundation in support of conservation. These are no ordinary “critter” labels but a testimony to what the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, WWF, the Leopard Trust and other conservation drives have achieved in South Africa’s wine lands.