Hope for at risk leopards: A clever plan for the big cats who love to roam free

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As humans continue to develop, we impinge on the habitat of animals and collisions are inevitable when the paths of big cats and humans cross. Some of the big cats - like lions - can be successfully contained in nature reserves, but this is not the case for the famously elusive leopard who likes to roam. According to the global wild cat conservation organisation, Panthera - that has classified leopards as vulnerable - the stealthy, spotted cats have vanished from 65% of their historic range in Africa. Trophy hunting and their use in traditional regalia are contributing to the decline of leopards in Southern Africa. In a recent study on the leopard populations of the Sabi Sands and Phinda reserves, researchers found that the restrictions on the movement of leopards and what they call ‘over-exploitation of leopards over the years’ - this includes poaching and humans that retaliate for attacks on livestock - have led to inbreeding. One of the researchers is Dr Vincent Naudé, from the Institute for Communities and Wildlife in Africa (iCWild) at the University of Cape Town. He is also a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Counter Wildlife Crime for Panthera. Dr Naude and a team of researchers have proposed wildlife corridors that link reserves as a solution to enable leopards to roam and encourage gene flow. He spoke to BizNews about the study and the success of the Panthera programme to introduce artificial or faux leopard fur into Zulu and other religious customs.

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