The perilous 1,000-mile journey to save Africa’s endangered black rhinos
28 October 2022
Two leopards have been introduced into Mozambique’s Zinave National Park as the founder animals of what will hopefully become a significant leopard population for the region. The reintroduction is part of the next phase of a highly successful rehabilitation and rewilding programme – under a broader partnership between the country’s National Administration for Conservation Areas (ANAC) and Peace Parks Foundation – that has led to the restoration of natural ecosystems in the park. This follows the reintroduction last year of four hyena — the first large predators to be brought back in a bid to reestablish a carnivore guild in Zinave.
After a challenging capture effort, a female leopard was sourced from Karangani Game Reserve in south-western Mozambique and flown by the Peace Parks plane to Zinave, followed by a male several weeks later. The leopards were initially introduced into the 18 600 ha sanctuary established within the park, but, as big cats do, they soon ventured further, exploring the surrounding habitat within the greater 408 000 ha protected area.
In addition to donating the leopards, Karangani provided significant operational support to the capture along with veterinary partner the Mozambique Wildlife Alliance (MWA), joining hands with ANAC, Peace Parks and the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT). Funding support for the translocation was provided by the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance (ICWCA) and GEOS Foundation.
With the exciting reintroduction of the emblematic leopard, Peace Parks and its partners continue to achieve our goal of restoring the ecological sanctity of Zinave, through the success of our rewilding programme. As we witness these apex predators roaming the park, we are again reminded that biodiversity enhancement, through the restoration and preservation of wilderness areas, is the most effective tool we have in fighting climate change and securing a sustainable future for mankind.
Peace Parks Foundation CEO Werner Myburgh
The extensive rewilding efforts in Zinave, which was decimated by decades of human impacts in Mozambique, have seen 2 300 mammals from 14 species introduced into the park’s well-secured sanctuary, with wildlife numbers now flourishing to around 6 500 animals. These activities form part of a larger restoration and development programme that has been accelerated under a 20-year co-management agreement between ANAC and Peace Parks, supported by various donors. Through this partnership, significant investment has been made towards vastly improved infrastructure, enhanced conservation management, and boosted counter-poaching capabilities.
Reconstructing Zinave’s carnivore guild
In 2019, the EWT – which has extensive experience in the reintroduction, management and research of predator populations – conducted a reintroduction feasibility assessment of Zinave to evaluate the landscape in terms of its suitability for large carnivores. Based on this assessment, ANAC and Peace Parks decided to start by reintroducing four spotted hyenas at the end of 2020 (which have already produced two cubs), followed by leopards.
“The woodlands of Zinave are ideal for leopards, providing them with ample opportunities to engage in their trademark ambush hunting. With the return of medium sized antelope, the sanctuary can support around ten leopards. Once their preferred prey, such as impala, is restored to the entire 400 000 ha park, the system could hold over 200 individuals. The return of leopards is key to restoring Zinave to a fully functioning ecosystem,” explained Dr David Mills, the EWT’s Carnivore Conservation Programme Manager.
Bordering Limpopo National Park and South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Karangani is the largest privately-owned tract of land in the Great Limpopo TFCA at 150 000 hectares.
Ellery Worth, warden of Karangani, commented:
“Karingani’s purpose is to promote landscape conservation within its own expanse, but with cognisance of the important role it has to play in the greater Mozambique and transboundary landscape. The donation of leopards and support of this translocation is a prime example of the like-minded collaborations with the Mozambique government, private investors, non-profits and local communities, that lie at the core of the Karingani ethos and operational focus.”
In another highly encouraging sign for Zinave, lion activity has increasingly been recorded in the park. The first photo of a lion in several decades was captured on a camera trap in the sanctuary in early September 2021, indicating that predators are being naturally drawn to the area’s now prosperous ecosystems.
Zinave National Park is a vital component of a wildlife corridor within the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area that sees animals migrate all the way from Kruger National Park in South Africa through and to Limpopo, Banhine and Zinave National Parks in Mozambique.
With the introduction of key species such as hyena, and now leopard, in addition to the carnivores that are naturally being drawn to the region, Zinave is well on its way to becoming one of Mozambique’s flagship protected areas. We are excited to be at the helm of Zinave’s development into a game-viewing destination that has the potential to sustain a tourism industry, with communities being the main beneficiaries of the ensuing job creation and income generation.
Maria Cidália Mahumane, Coordinator of the General Directorate of ANAC
In Mozambique, communities living in or around conservation areas receive a share of 20% of the park’s revenue to assist with community development, in addition to the various community development and employment opportunities offered by Zinave.
Protecting an iconic big cat
Leopards are listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with populations in southern Africa thought to have declined by more than 30% over the past 20 years, due to factors such as habitat loss, conflict with humans and poorly-managed trophy hunting. Leopards roaming outside protected areas are particularly at risk.
“Often in the recovery of a landscape, it is the apex predators that struggle to return to former numbers without assistance,” said Ivan Carter, founder of the ICWCA. “As the Ivan Carter Wildlife Conservation Alliance, we focus on supporting large landscape recovery and maintenance, and it is highly rewarding to be a part of the re-establishment of leopards in Zinave, where they were formerly abundant and will hopefully be so once again.”
The two leopards are being closely monitored by the EWT and park staff as they settle into the park. Tracking data seems to indicate that they are doing well and have already begun to establish new territories, laying the foundations for the establishment of a thriving metapopulation.