Repatriating leopards into novel landscapes of a South African province.

Published online
12 Apr 2021
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Power, R. J. & Venter, L. & Botha, M. V. & Bartels, P.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Africa South of Sahara & South Africa


Leopards are often translocated away from where they are caught as non-lethal human-wildlife conflict mitigation. It is alleged that leopards fail to settle where they are translocated to, owing to territoriality. We address the need to publish more accounts of successful repatriation of leopards, but also include novel applications aimed at orphans and confiscated leopards. We satellite collared 16 leopards which included a mixture of relocated and translocated leopards, of which the latter included conventional damage causing animals (DCAs, viz 'problem animals'), orphans and confiscations. We determined standard home-range metrics and assessed home-range stabilization as a means of determining site fidelity. Premature mortality and site infidelity, that is homing back to origins, were considered failures. We looked at range stabilization by examining successive monthly ranges against that of the preceding month, that is utilization distribution overlap indices (UDOIs). Relocations turned out to be residents (~3 km, n = 3), while they were immune to intervention, while translocations resulted in 50% success (n = 12), which were invariably confiscated adults of unknown origin, and simulations of natal dispersals of orphans (~25 km, n = 3). DCAs never settled where released (~90 km, n = 5). Resident leopards showed high monthly UDOIs, and for those translocated a minimum of 0.15 was benchmarked to suggest range stability, which also reflected large spatial ranging. Success in home-range establishment was associated with landscapes which were unsaturated by other leopards, but anthropogenic threats still persisted, such that survival after a year was ~45%, but was not different to the normal background mortality of areas outside protected areas in the country. Operations are costly, particularly that to do with veterinary treatment, immobilization, collars and temporary keeping, but such costs can be carried by public interest groups. 5. All adults (>3 years) of known origin should be relocated (transported distance < home-range diameter), while subadults (1-3 years) can be considered for translocations (transported distance > home-range diameter), while heeding ecological and genetic considerations, and not exceeding ~400 km. Other non-lethal mitigation should however be considered before translocation of leopards is contemplated. These findings can be applicable to solitary felids with a similar social organization.

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