Namibian Leopards

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    Namibian Leopards

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    By the 1970s Leopards were becoming scarce in many parts of Africa, the Leopard (Panthera pardus) was included in Appendix I at the CITES conference in Washington, D.C., USA in 1973 ending the fur trade and giving this species the opportunity to recover nicely.

    Namibian legislation lists Leopard (Panthera pardus) as Specially Protected under the Nature Conservation Ordinance and as such no person may hunt a Leopard without a permit. Nonetheless, owners or occupiers of land may kill Leopards in defense of human life or to protect the life of livestock. When this happens, it is compulsory to report such killing to the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) within 10 days, at which point a tag number is allocated to the skin of such an animal. Namibia has a well established and strictly controlled trophy hunting industry. Trophy hunting is conducted under the strict supervision of registered hunting guides.

    Based on the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) Permit Office records, here are the numbers of trophy hunted Leopards in Namibia from 1997 to 2009.
    1997: 57
    1998: 33
    1999: 56
    2000: 59
    2001: 66
    2003: 106 (exported 100)
    2004: 119 (exported 100)
    2005: 142 (exported 143)
    2006: 250 (exported 184)
    2007: 210 (exported 197)
    2008: 280 (exported 250)
    2009: 259 (exported 250)

    The Leopard export quota for Namibia was set at a 100 in 1992. For the first time in 2003, Namibia reached the export quota of a hundred and was obliged to keep back some trophies for export in the subsequent year. At that time less than half of the animals destroyed annually in Namibia are trophy-hunted and Leopard that has been destroyed as a problem animal has much less value domestically, as the export of such specimens is not allowed. A proposal is put forth by Namibia to have its quota for the export of Leopard hunting trophies and skins for personal use increased in order to be able to encourage the trophy hunting of animals that would otherwise be destroyed in any case as problems. In comparison to trophy hunting, killing a problem animal has no financial benefit to the farmer as these skins may not be exported and the local market for Leopard skins is very limited.

    A study by Hanssen & Stander was conducted in 2003 to obtain a better distribution and density information on a national scale. This study was based on sighting returns from the public (including hunting guides, conservation authorities, tour operators and tourists) that are correlated with data from the intensive studies, and extrapolated to obtain a national population estimate. Based on 913 observations, the density and distribution of Leopards were conservatively calculated to a population estimate of 8,039 (5,469 to 10,610) animals. This population estimate, derived from a completely different method, is similar a study conducted by Martin & De Meulenaer’s in 1988 estimating 7,745 (4,182 to 14,483) animals.

    The 1988 study by Martin & De Meulenaer suggested that off-takes of 5 per cent per year would be conservative and sustainable. Based on the 2003 population estimate of 8,039 (5,468 to 10,610) a 5 per cent harvest would allow an annual off-takes of 402 (273 to 531) Leopards. The Leopard belongs to the category of "populations with full compensation", which means populations able to compensate easily a reasonable harvesting. Even if a population has been decreased to a very low level, it will recover its maximal density when the off-take is stopped.

    Leopards are still widely distributed in Namibia, especially in the central and northern parts of the country and approximately 77 per cent of Namibia provides suitable habitat for Leopard. From the intensive studies on Leopards in Namibia, the lowest density was recorded in Nyae Nyae Conservancy (0.82/100 km2) and the highest density was recorded in Otjiwarongo District (5.6/100 km2) followed by Waterberg Plateau Park (4.4/100 km2), Hobatere Concession Area (3.9/100 km2) and Khaudum Game Park (3.53/100 km2). The overall distribution of Leopard in Namibia seems to have changed little since the earliest accounts. The populations of predators are in general limited by the food resources and in Africa, these resources are determined by the biological productivity, itself determined by the rainfall.

    In 2004, it was proposed that an export quota of 250 trophies would be sustainable and would allow for a greater number of the animals currently shot as problems to be trophy hunted, thus increasing the value of this species to the land user. CITES Secretariat concurs with Namibia’s assessment and supports this proposed quota increase. In October 2004 the proposal was accepted by CITES and the delegation praising Namibia's management of Leopards and citing sustainable use and community benefits as reasons for their support.

    The Leopard export quota for Namibia set to 250 is quickly exceeded in 2009 due to a roll over excess from the previous years and to the numbers of trophy hunted Leopards taken, fairly early in 2009 the limit is reached forcing the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) to stop issuing Leopard hunting permits for the rest of the 2009 hunting season. The entire export quota being already exhausted mid 2009 hunting season and to prevent export back logs to not make matter worth, the Namibia Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) announces that the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) has put in place a moratorium for Leopard effective June 15th, 2009. The moratorium is to be lifted just as soon as new Leopard hunting regulations are gazetted. The news created quite a stir, especially among safari operators with clients booked for a Leopard hunt later in the season.

    NAPHA in cooperation with MET got together to develop a new, fair, system to better utilize the existing CITES export quota and both the authorities at MET and members of NAPHA discussed the need for changes in regulations and a predator hunting committee constituting of NAPHA members was selected to draft recommendations on changes to the laws pertaining to Leopard hunting in Namibia. A special general meeting of NAPHA members is held on July 31st, 2009 so members can discuss the current challenges regarding Leopard hunting in Namibia. Lively discussion and debates on the status quo and the future of Leopard hunting, the way hunting licenses for this species are issued in Namibia as well as the hunting of Leopard with hounds, took place at the meeting which lasted a good part of the day. By the way motions which determined the immediate as well as long term future of trophy hunting in Namibia were passed by an overwhelming majority.

    The export quota is allocated "in any one year" so the problem of the roll over excess from one year to another, Leopard trophies not being able to be exported in that same year, can come simply from demand, can come from the fact that too many Leopard hunting permits were issued during the hunting season resulting in too many Leopards being taken due perhaps to a higher success rate that particular year, Leopards taken late into the year, or due to lengthy taxidermy procedures and any other unforeseen delays. Leopard hunting with hounds and how this style of hunting may be responsible for the filled quota also comes into surface.

    According to the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), the main reason why Leopard export quotas were filled these last few years was due to the increasing demand by hunters for Leopard hunts with dogs and due to the success rate of this method of hunting Leopard, about 80% compared to 20% using traditional baiting methods according to NAPHA. Leopard hunting with hounds has been discussed by NAPHA and Namibian outfitters for over a decade, with NAPHA even calling on houndsmen and hunting professionals who hunt with hounds to put forward and implement regulatory measures. The Leopard hunting accident with hounds of 2009 involving Brittany Boddington, Craig Boddington's daughter, did bring also lots of opposition to this type of hunting and reignited the issue (for more on this story click here). Hunting with hounds has always been a contentious issue in Namibia since a loophole in the existing legislation allowed it to take place.

    Numerous reports of illegal hunting practices surfaced, it was the responsibility of NAPHA predator hunting committee to consult with members on how to proceed with contentious issues regarding the hunting of Leopard, the result of such consultation was to propose to MET that the hunting with hounds be prohibited and to implement regulatory measures to put the hunting of predators on a sound footing again. Those reports of unethical Leopard hunting activities by hunting outfitters and hound hunters are putting Leopard hunting in Namibia at risk. Those reports and stories consists of illegal hunting practices such as canned Leopard hunts, trapping of Leopards to be released moments prior to the dogs as well as hound teams no respecting boundaries by going onto properties where they had no permission to hunt.

    The Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) confirms these rumors and investigated all reports submitted to them, but has received little evidence to confirm these illegal hunting practices. MET says to have methods in place to ensure that Leopards submitted for export permits were not trapped animals, part of the reasons why photographs of the Leopard upon its harvest must be taken. According to MET caged Leopards have tell-tale signs such as injuries to the face, freshly broken teeth, bloodied and injured paws, rubbed fur and possible marks on the inside of hides that will tip off MET trained agents if an animal was held and released.

    You will find the Amendment of Regulations relating to Nature Conservation for Leopard hunting in Namibia (Nature Conservation Ordinance, 1975) by clicking here for Official Leopard & Cheetah Hunting Announcement by NAPHA.

    For some views on hunting Leopard with dogs:
    Hunting Leopard with Hounds
    Southern African Leopard Hunting Perspectives

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