Orphaned Female Leopard Cub Re-Introduction Project

'Dotty'

Dotty - leopard cub only weeks old

Tsavo - November 2016

On the 12th of May 2016 a small female leopard cub was brought into our Tsavo Trust HQ in the Kamungi Community Conservancy, which boarders Tsavo East National Park (TENP). She weighed a fraction over 1kg and her eyes had just begun to peel open and it was a further two weeks before she could properly focus and walk without bumping into anything. We estimated her age to be 10/14 days on arrival. She was not in very good condition and it was obvious she had been away from her mother for sometime.

The leopard cub had been picked up by Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) rangers while patrolling outside the northern boundary of Tsavo East National Park. It was suspected that her mother had been poisoned by local villagers possibly due to stock killing.

There were three possible options for her future;

  • The Kenya Wildlife Service Orphanage at KWS HQ in Nairobi, where they already have over 20 long term resident large cats and it would mean a lifetime in a cage.
  • To have the animal put down, this would be a last resort.
  • For Tsavo Trust to take on the care and attempt to reintroduce the leopard into Tsavo East National Park, giving her a chance to live a fully independent life.

We at Tsavo Trust felt that the third option was the most appropriate and therefore entered into a long-term commitment with KWS to attempt to provide this orphan with an opportunity to lead an independent and free life within the protected area of Tsavo East National Park. At the same time taking on board the many and varying challenges of such a venture – post release monitoring and Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) being just two of those.

This means a huge commitment for Tsavo Trust both financially and in terms of resources.

KWS have fully endorsed Tsavo Trust to keep the leopard, as well as to develop a small area within the National Park to carry out the lengthy reintroduction process.

The Future Plan

We plan to reintroduce the leopard to the wild. Due to the complexity of such large cats and the issues surrounding leopard and Human Wildlife Conflict (HWC) we, together with KWS have chosen an ideal location deep within the Tsavo Conservation Area (TCA) known as ZERO DELTA, where the ground between the site and human habitation is vast. There we would like to build a secure enclosure, similar to the one we have already constructed here at TT HQ as mentioned previously. In addition, a 1 -2 acre outer, predator proof fenced area is needed to act as a secondary buffer. We will set up a basic but comfortable camp close to the enclosure, which will cater for the two keepers and two armed KWS rangers who will be stationed there. (The KWS rangers will not have any contact or be involved with the leopard’s care in anyway).

The leopard will then be moved to the site and continue life very much in the same way as she is now until such a time she is ready to progress into another phase of her reintroduction.

We plan to be able to track her movements the moment she starts to spend time out and about for longer periods. In order to do this, we will consult with experts from the animal tracking field, who will be invited to come and set up the most appropriate device and consult on the best methods of tracking and recording data. We feel this is extremely important to carry out the whole reintroduction project professionally and in the leopard’s best interests. This information will be shared with KWS and also those who have been involved in her release (sponsors etc.) It is worth noting that during consultations with individuals in Kenya and Tanzania who have reintroduced leopard and lion to the wild, that there has been no post release tracking done on these animals. Given this fact, there is little known of the success of such projects (or lack of) therefore, we believe it is even more important to record this particular leopard’s movements accurately in order to ascertain weather or not the project was a success.

Our Immediate Needs

To make the reintroduction back into the wild the smooth success this leopard deserves, we urgently need the funds to implement the following;

  • Enclosures at the reintroduction site (Zero Delta)
  • Self contained tented camp – for 2 Leopard Keepers and 2 KWS Rangers
  • To put in an airstrip at Zero Delta – given the remoteness of the site, this is needed for emergencies i.e. Evacuation of injured keeper, fast delivery of a Vet, medical supplies etc. It will also enable us to monitor the leopard’s progress on a daily basis by being able to fly there from TT HQ using the TT aircraft.
  • A second-hand 4 x 4 vehicle and its running costs – needed to transport the leopard as well as ferrying food, water and other supplies on a weekly basis.
  • To purchase a water bowser – needed to ferry water to the reintroduction site for both leopard and keepers
  • Leopard’s upkeep – Feeding and veterinary care
  • Salary and rations - two leopard keepers for 2 years
  • Basic Essentials for 2 leopard keepers - uniforms, walking shoes, binoculars, camera, torches, bedrolls, sleeping bags etc.
  • Good medical cover for 2 keepers – given that they will be working in a remote area with a ‘Class A’ predator, this is a must!
  • Radio equipment – this is essential for communications between HQ and the reintroduction site especially in cases of emergencies as the site is very remote.
  • Radio Tracking Collar for the leopard – for post release monitoring