Project Hopes to Film Black Leopard in Wild|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|09/01/04 at 02:46:37|richard_f|xx|0|81.154.158.84|From the Sunday Times (Johannesburg)
Project Hopes to Film Black Leopard in Wild
August 22, 2004
Prega Govender
Johannesburg

AN AMBITIOUS plan to film South Africa's rarely sighted black leopards by
installing 21 digital cameras with infrared sensors at strategic spots on
some 40 Mpumalanga farms will be launched today.

A 20-member expedition including natural history filmmaker Graham
Wallington, eight of the country's top animal trackers and members of the
Mpumalanga Parks Board, will camp out for two weeks on a remote farm 40km
northwest of Lydenburg to film the cats, which have never been photographed
in the wild.

Wallington says the black leopard is a rare melanistic version of the
leopard species and is pitch black in colour.

The team will scour more than 80 000ha of farmland, setting up baited traps
in the hope of capturing a black leopard.

A GPS (global positioning system) and a cellphone device will then be
attached to the captured leopard's collar so that its movements can be
monitored over a period of time.

Fifteen camera traps, which were placed at different farms on a trial basis
from the middle of July, have so far produced dramatic footage of three
ordinary leopards.

Lydenburg zoological researcher Gerrie Comacho, an expert on lions and
leopards, said about 30 people had reported sightings of black leopards
since 1952.

Comacho said aside from trying to film the black leopard, they would be
studying the number of leopards living in the area. They will study their
age and health so as to manage the animals better and make predictions on
future leopard populations.

Using the Internet, Comacho is tracking a leopard which was fitted with a
satellite tracking collar and released into the wild on a mountain near
Lydenburg.

He said leopards roamed large areas and the chances of seeing them were
slim.

Wallington, who plans to shoot a documentary of the project, said filming
black leopards in the wild would make a great story.

He said the project, which will run into several hundred thousand rands, was
being funded by the Development Bank of South Africa and private
individuals.



||