The capture and collaring of a leopard at Ongava Research Centre

Oct 30, 2013 Conservation
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On the evening of the 22nd October 2013 a male leopard was caught in the Margo box trap at approximately 22:00. This was discovered early on the morning of the 23rd by myself. As it was cool enough, we decided that we should dart the animal that morning and place him in the recovery box for the duration of the day under the carport roof at Margo house.

Dr Conrad Brain was informed that we were about to carry out the darting procedure. A dart with 350mg of Zoletil was loaded and the leopard was darted in the front left hand shoulder. We then left the leopard in the cage for a period of approximately 20 minutes as we waited for the Zoletil to take effect. On returning to the box trap, the leopard was affected, but there was still quite a lot of movement in the throat and head area. I administered a 50mg Zoletil top up. After the top up we opened the cage and loaded the leopard on to the Land Cruiser, moving the animal to the shade of the Margo house car port.

Once offloaded the following activities took place:

  • Vitals were monitored, including respiration, heart rate, body temperature and capillary reflex.
  • A collar was placed on the animal. This was eventually done twice. We had initially put the collar on, but then it was realised that the overlap of the collar under the battery pack was causing some restrictions to the neck area. The collar was taken off and the overlap was cut shorter. The collar was checked to see if all magnets were removed and that the VHF transmitter was working.
  • Measurements were taken as per the carnivore measurement sheet.
  • We checked the animal for parasites, in the anus area and between the paws. No parasites were found.
  • Penicillin was administered as a precaution.
  • The leopard was weighed. It weighed 48kg.
  • Capillary reflex was checked repeatedly during the operation to make sure that circulation was good. In all cases it was normal.
  • All wounds/abrasions were inspected and sprayed with an antiseptic wound spray. This included the dart wound. It was also noticed here that a significant amount of the first dart appeared to have leaked onto the fur around the dart spot.
  • The animal was photographed for identification purposes.
  • The animal was placed in the recovery box approximately one-and-a-half hours after the dart went in.
  • We then locked and left the recovery box at Margo at about 9:30 am.

We returned to the box at 14:00 to pour water around the box to try and cool the ambient temperature as it was a very warm day. We had placed a thermometer on the recovery box which showed 37 degrees at 14:00. Luckily there was a strong breeze blowing throughout the day.

At 14:00 when I looked in the cooling vents in the recovery box I found the leopard looking right back at me. He seemed to be making a good recovery.

At approximately 19:00 we returned to the recovery box to release the leopard. On opening the box the leopard ran out fully alert and awake. It was approximately 11 hours after darting.

On inspection of the photographs we have of leopard in the area, this male is not one of the territorial males that we are aware of in the Margo area. It seems he is a visitor and we are now waiting for downloads from the GPS collar to see where exactly he is from.

The deployment of the second leopard collar concludes the trapping exercise for leopard as we have fitted both our collars now. Although it has taken a long time to catch these animals I am certain that the information gathered from these collars will be invaluable as we continue to try and understand how the predators on Ongava utilise space. It will also provide insight into these particularly elusive animals on Ongava.

By Stuart Crawford

Background to ORC’s leopard collaring work

I have been trapping for leopard at Margo for the past 14 months whenever I have had bait available. The box trap is situated east of Margo House, approximately 100 m from the perimeter fence of Margo. The structural setup to catch animals has been a circular thorn bush fence, with a box trap as the only entrance into the fenced area. Placed in the middle of the thorn bush enclosure is the bait. For bait I usually use the head of an animal (oryx/kudu) shot for farm staff rations with the guts used to lay the bait trail. The bait trail is usually fairly short (no more than 100 m) due to the proximity of the box trap to the Margo House waterhole. We know from ORC’s camera trap records and observations at Margo that the leopards that do drink there seem to come in from the eastern thicket next to the waterhole. There are a number of prominent game trials leading through the thicket. I cut these trails with the bait trail.

Due to the proximity of the trap to Margo we are able to set up an alarm system that tells us when the trap has actually been closed. This allows Theresa to inform us at any hour of the night as to whether we had caught something. We favour this approach as we hope it will limit time in the cage for the animals we catch. Over the period of trapping we have caught a wide variety of animals, including spotted hyaena, caracal, brown hyaena, lion, leopard, jackal and yellow-billed kite. Up until this report we had only caught one leopard, a young female which we collared on 6 February 2013.



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