Studying Large Carnivores with GPS Technology: Leopard Research Project
From the annual report submitted to the Government of Botswana by The Botswana Predator Conservation Program (Dr. J. W. “Tico” McNutt, Director)
Five adult leopards inhabiting the core study area that comprises the southern part of Moremi Game Reserve and the adjacent Wildlife Management Areas are currently regularly under observation for ranging, territoriality, and reproductive activity. Three males and one female are fitted with GPS radio collars and one female is fitted with a traditional VHF radio collar (fig. 3). A sixth uncollared adult female that holds a territory around the research camp has been identified and is opportunistically observed. A seventh territorial adult male, collared late in 2006 was shot in the study area in June 2007.
By the end of October in the same year his territory (fig. 3, orange dots) was already being partially occupied by a young male (fig. 3, blue dots) estimated to be about 2 years old. The rapid immigration of a territorial male suggests that the sub-population of leopards in our study area is probably healthy and capable of rapidly recovering available habitat. However, the consequences of a human-caused removal (shooting) of territorial males on the subpopulation’s social structure and reproduction are as yet unknown. Mating has been observed repeatedly among the various resident males and females, but none of the closely observed females has been seen with cubs in the last 12 months. One unidentified adult female was reported to us with a cub in the study area north of the female (green dots, fig3)
Figure 3. GPS locations for 6 adult leopards inhabiting the core study area. Three males (yellow, red and blue dots) and two females (green and purple dots) are currently being monitored; professional trophy hunters shot the male (orange dots) in June.
Habitat use. As expected, the two sexes have completely overlapping territories. Whereas the two females have exclusive territories, the males show an unexpected high degree of overlap (fig. 3, yellow and red dots). Male territories do not typically overlap according to reports from other study areas. It may be that the “red” male is a young male looking for available habitat that is temporarily tolerated by the “yellow” territorial male. Estimates of territory sizes for the collared leopards are given in Table 3. As expected the territory size of males is significantly larger than for females, with a male roughly covering the territories of three resident females.
The high variance within the territory sizes of the males is in part due to habitat differences. This density estimate is conservative since it does not take into account among same sex residents. More range data will be necessary to assess the degree of overlap between territorial individuals of the same sex and whether territorial residents of either sex commonly tolerate young individuals.