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Diet, activity and spatial occupancy of leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains.

FITZGERALD, LEANNE,ELLEN (2015) Diet, activity and spatial occupancy of leopards in the Soutpansberg Mountains. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Leopards, though broadly distributed, are highly variable in terms of their ecology. Recently, the Soutpansberg Mountains were identified as supporting one of the highest leopard populations in a non-protected area in Africa. This study aims to understand how these mountains can support such a high density of leopards, thus aiding in identifying the conservation potential of this environment and the species in it. Using a combination of camera trap and scat data collected over two years, research into leopard occupancy, diet and activity was conducted. This research represents the first of its kind to use this combination to investigate these factors in the Soutpansberg.

The occupancy analysis proved inconclusive in determining which variables influence the occupancy of leopards. It was found that camera trap data can be split into almost any number of sessions (groupings of trap days), which is a valuable finding as no previous study has provided evidence to support their choice of session number.

Leopards consumed 22 species of various sizes, with Artiodactyla species like bushbuck and bushpig contributing most to their diet. No livestock were found in the scats, indicating that leopards are preying on livestock at lower levels than landowners perceive. Some species, such as red duiker and common warthog, were consumed less than expected by leopards based on their availability.

Activity patterns indicate that leopards are active throughout the day and night, but their diet suggests they may hunt nocturnally as their most commonly consumed prey are active during this time. Evidence of temporal partitioning between leopards and their prey provides viable explanations for prey selection.

This study provides knowledge of elements, such as availability of prey and temporal overlap with prey, which make this environment suitable for a high density of leopards. The knowledge gained through this study of the ecology and behaviour of the Soutpansberg’s top predator in relation to its prey should be valuable in future conservation planning there and in similar montane environments.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Science
Keywords:Activity, Camera Traps, Carnivore, Diet, Occupancy, Predator, Prey, Scats
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Anthropology, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:29 May 2015 12:22

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