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Extent and fragmentation of suitable leopard habitat in South Africa

Authors

  • L. H. Swanepoel,

    Corresponding author
    • Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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  • P. Lindsey,

    1. Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    2. Endangered Wildlife Trust, Modderfontein, South Africa
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  • M. J. Somers,

    1. Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    2. Centre for Invasive Biology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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  • W. van Hoven,

    1. Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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  • F. Dalerum

    1. Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
    2. Mammal Research Institute, Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa
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Correspondence

Lourens H. Swanepoel, Centre for Wildlife Management, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, Private Bag X20, Hatfield 0028, South Africa.

Tel: +27 12 4202627; Fax: +27 12 4206096

Email: lourens.swanepoel@up.ac.za

Abstract

Large mammalian carnivores are threatened by anthropogenic environmental impacts, particularly through habitat loss which often cause population declines. Understanding the extent of suitable habitat is therefore of great importance for carnivore conservation. The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a widespread and relatively common large carnivore, but the species is declining in large parts of its range. Using maximum entropy-based habitat models, we estimated the extent of suitable leopard habitat in South Africa, what variables that are associated with suitable leopard habitats, the extent of habitat that has been negatively impacted by human activity and the effectiveness of protected areas to capture suitable habitat. Suitable leopard habitat was highly fragmented. Although vegetation and physical variables were the most influential variables for habitat suitability, livestock farming primarily seem to underlie fragmentation. We suggest that the sustainability of the South African leopard population depends on maintaining dispersal routes between areas with suitable habitat. This will require mitigation of human–carnivore conflict in habitat corridors, particularly mitigation strategies targeting conflict between carnivores and livestock farmers. Because most suitable habitat occurred outside of protected areas, we also recommend that leopard conservation efforts should focus on areas that are not legally protected.

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