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Estimating leopard density across the highly modified human-dominated landscape of the Western Cape, South Africa

  • Carolyn H. Devens (a1), Matt W. Hayward (a1), Thulani Tshabalala (a2), Amy Dickman (a3), Jeannine S. McManus (a2), Bool Smuts (a2) and Michael J. Somers (a1)...


Apex predators play a critical role in maintaining the health of ecosystems but are highly susceptible to habitat degradation and loss caused by land-use changes, and to anthropogenic mortality. The leopard Panthera pardus is the last free-roaming large carnivore in the Western Cape province, South Africa. During 2011–2015, we carried out a camera-trap survey across three regions covering c. 30,000 km2 of the Western Cape. Our survey comprised 151 camera sites sampling nearly 14,000 camera-trap nights, resulting in the identification of 71 individuals. We used two spatially explicit capture–recapture methods (R programmes secr and SPACECAP) to provide a comprehensive density analysis capable of incorporating environmental and anthropogenic factors. Leopard density was estimated to be 0.35 and 1.18 leopards/100 km2, using secr and SPACECAP, respectively. Leopard population size was predicted to be 102–345 individuals for our three study regions. With these estimates and the predicted available leopard habitat for the province, we extrapolated that the Western Cape supports an estimated 175–588 individuals. Providing a comprehensive baseline population density estimate is critical to understanding population dynamics across a mixed landscape and helping to determine the most appropriate conservation actions. Spatially explicit capture–recapture methods are unbiased by edge effects and superior to traditional capture–mark–recapture methods when estimating animal densities. We therefore recommend further utilization of robust spatial methods as they continue to be advanced.

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(Corresponding author) E-mail


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Also at: Research Department, Landmark Foundation, Riversdale, South Africa

Also at: School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Callaghan, Australia

Also at: School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Also at: Department of Biodiversity and Conservation Biology, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa

Also at: Centre for Invasion Biology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa

Supplementary material for this article is available at



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Estimating leopard density across the highly modified human-dominated landscape of the Western Cape, South Africa

  • Carolyn H. Devens (a1), Matt W. Hayward (a1), Thulani Tshabalala (a2), Amy Dickman (a3), Jeannine S. McManus (a2), Bool Smuts (a2) and Michael J. Somers (a1)...


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