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Survival rates and causes of mortality of leopards Panthera pardus in southern Africa

  • Lourens H. Swanepoel (a1), Michael J. Somers (a1), Wouter van Hoven (a1), Monika Schiess-Meier (a2), Cailey Owen (a3), Andrei Snyman (a4), Quinton Martins (a5), Charl Senekal (a6), Gerrie Camacho (a7), Willem Boshoff (a8) and Fredrik Dalerum (a1)...

Estimation of survival rates is important for developing and evaluating conservation options for large carnivores. However, telemetry studies for large carnivores are often characterized by small sample sizes that limit meaningful conclusions. We used data from 10 published and 8 unpublished studies of leopards Panthera pardus in southern Africa to estimate survival rates and investigate causes of leopard mortality. Mean survival rates were significantly lower in non-protected (0.55 ± SE 0.08) compared to protected areas (0.88 ± 0.03). Inside protected areas juveniles had significantly lower survival (0.39 ± 0.10) compared to subadults (0.86 ± 0.07) and adults (0.88 ± 0.04). There was a greater difference in cause of death between protected and non-protected areas for females compared to males, with people being the dominant cause of mortality outside protected areas for both females and males. We suggest there is cause for concern regarding the sustainability of leopard populations in South Africa, as high female mortality may have severe demographic effects and a large proportion of suitable leopard habitat lies in non-protected areas. However, because a large proportion of deaths outside protected areas were attributed to deliberate killing by people, we suggest that management interventions may have the potential to increase leopard survival dramatically. We therefore stress the urgency to initiate actions, such as conflict mitigation programmes, to increase leopard survival in non-protected areas.

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