As a direct result of the most extensive leopard research ever conducted in the world, the leopard population at &Beyond Phinda Private Game Reserve is now stable at 30 resident adults. At the onset of the project there were only an estimated 15 to 20 resident cats due to the leopard mortality rates, the majority of which were caused by humans.
This increase in population density is the result of the findings and measures implemented as a result of the MunYaWana Leopard Project, a collaboration between &Beyond and Panthera, a USA-based philanthropic association focused on the conservation of the world’s 37 species of wild cats.
Regulations for sustainable leopard trophy hunting and a stricter system of permits for the control of problem animals were set up as a result of the study, resulting in a decrease in annual mortality rates from 40 to a more natural 13%. The success of the project can also be attributed to the introduction of a leopard management programme for cattle farmers and ranchers, providing them with training and support in alternative means of protecting their livestock from predators like leopard.
The research project has also studied the illegal persecution of leopards through snaring, poisoning and illegal shooting, as well as the trade in leopard skins. The team has studied the use of these skins within Zulu culture and the Shembe religion and has developed a low-cost fake fur that may alleviate the pressure on wild leopard populations. Phinda has imported 750 of these fake skins to introduce them to church leadership and have recently secured funds from Panthera to import and donate another 4 000 to church followers.