Leopards Roam Free Again At Majete Wildlife Reserve

 

Majete Wildlife Reserve has become the proud recipient of four leopards from South Africa. The four young leopards are the first to be introduced to Malawi across international borders and the first leopards to make their home in Majete for nearly two decades.

In a complex translocation project that took months to prepare, the first consignment of two young leopards were flown to Malawi on Friday 7th October 2011 on-board a private Beechcraft KingAir piloted by Dr Ivan Marx. Wildlife vet Dr. Heinrich Muller had to tranquilise both animals for the duration of the ten hour journey and keep a constant vigil due to the length of time involved.

The leopards, a male and a female between two and three years old, were captured in Kruger National Park and a private farm near Ohrigstad respectively. Both animals were in conflict with human activity and had been identified for removal. As only one viable population of leopard remains in Malawi (in Nyika National Park), African Parks identified South Africa as an appropriate source of leopards for the Majete restocking programme.

Great fanfare and excitement greeted the leopards' arrival at Chileka International Airport in Blantyre late on 7th October. After being transferred to purpose-built cages, watched by wildlife officials and park management, they were transported to Majete by road and finally offloaded at bomas on the reserve. Here Dr. Muller administered a reversal drug to revive them. By Saturday 8th October both leopards had made a full recovery and had settled down well into their bomas.

The two leopards were released onto the reserve at the end of October and have since been monitored by satellite tracking collars. They have established home ranges in the south and north eastern sectors of the reserve and have travelled extensively investigating their new homes. The male has reached the far western and southern boundaries and the female has ventured into the north, east and western sectors. Each leopard has been tracked on foot numerous times. The male was sighted once in the Nthumba River system in Pende whilst the female has not been physically seen, although tracking teams have got to within 40 metres of her several times. She is wonderfully adept at camouflage and can evade detection at very close quarters; an indication that she is healthy and able to move unimpeded.

 

The second consignment of leopards from South Africa arrived at Nchalo airstrip in a Cessna Grand Caravan on December 21st, this time in special holding cages which negated the need for them to be fully tranquilised. The accompanying vet, Dr. Andre Uys, monitored both animals throughout their journey. They were transferred into the bomas without incident and settled into their new environment within 48 hours. The male, from Ohrigstad in Mpumulanga, is between 3 and 4 years old, and the female, from Thaba Ingwe Nature Reserve in Thabazimbi, is between 2 and 3 years old.

 

Both leopards were released along the Mkulumadzi River in the north of the reserve - the male on January 12th 2012 and the female on January 13th. Dr. Uys darted the animals in the bomas and inspected their condition which was observed to be excellent. They were then fitted with collars containing satellite tracking and VHF radio transmitters so they could be tracked remotely and on foot. The male was named “Bou” and the female named “Lady Anna”. Two days after the release of “Lady Anna”, Majete Field Operations Manager Doran Tilbury and Andre Uys tracked her on foot and came across her at close quarters hunting bushbuck. Lady Anna and Bou continue to stay in the northern sector of the reserve along the Mkulumadzi River.

African Parks Majete would like to thank all those who contributed to this milestone translocation, with particular mention to the following people and organisations.

 

·      Liberty Wildlife Trust, which contributed $95 000 for Majete’s predator-proof fencing.

·      Africom, which donated €25 000 toward the cost of the translocation.

·      Dr Ivan Marx, who donated the aircraft, fuel and his time to fly the first two leopards to Malawi.

·      Dr. Andre Uys who donated his time to the second translocation.

·      Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre, which housed the leopards in South Africa.

·      Flitecare Air Charters who moved the second pair of leopards at a discounted cost.

·      Adessium Foundation who contributed to the translocation as part of their institutional support for African Parks.

·      The Dutch Postcode Lottery, which provides funding for the African Parks portfolio.

 

Majete Wildlife Reserve has been a conservation success story since African Parks assumed management in 2003, with over 2 550 head of wildlife, including elephant, buffalo, sable and black rhino, introduced to the park over eight years. The introduction of leopard is the penultimate step in the Majete restocking programme, which will culminate in the reintroduction of lion in 2012.