Ingwe Leopard Research
At the Swebeswebe Nature Reserve, we take great pride in our participation in the Ingwe Leopard Research Project.
The On Track Foundation is a UK-based charity dedicated to promoting wildlife conservation and protecting threatened species. It is primarily funded by On Track Safaris Ltd, a company that believes in the conservation value of tourism. The foundation provides research grants, wildlife education, and support for landowners. Their main project is the Ingwe Leopard Research initiative.
Marine Servonnat, a conservation ecologist and project manager with an MSc in Conservation and Restoration of Biodiversity from the University of Antwerp, Belgium, leads the foundation's efforts. She has a background in developing and managing research and conservation projects across diverse biomes in four countries, including the Mediterranean Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and the African savannah.
Marine's goal is to bridge the gap between the safari industry and the academic field to support conservation organizations. Her passion for conservation led her from working as a conservation ecologist to becoming a camp manager in the Okavango Delta. With the On Track Foundation, she now leads a conservation project focused on leopards, her favorite species, which are currently classified as Vulnerable with a decreasing population according to the IUCN Red List.
Marine and the Ingwe Leopard Project are in partnership with the Waterberg Research Support Centre (WRSC). The WRSC, a registered NPC, was established by Marilize Greyling with the primary mission of facilitating and organizing research efforts within the Waterberg Bio-Region.
Marilize Greyling (left) and Marine Servonnat (right)
Conservation Partnership: How Guides, Guests, and Photographs Can Help Preserve Endangered Species
In the effort to preserve one of the "Big 5" charismatic species, specifically leopards, a unique collaboration is underway, uniting safari lodges, their guides, and guests in a conservation initiative that leverages technology and the power of photography. This partnership aims to collect crucial data, monitor populations, and ultimately contribute to evidence-based conservation management decisions.
The importance of this initiative lies in the fact that the safari industry possesses the operational capabilities required for long-term research on flagship species like leopards. By participating in this project, these lodges distinguish themselves as pioneers in the field of conservation-focused tourism.
Safari guides, who are often leaders in conservation, play a pivotal role. During daily game drives, they utilize the SMART conservation app to record essential data such as date, time, GPS location, the number of individuals, their sex, age, and specific behaviors observed. This information is invaluable for understanding leopard behavior and distribution.
Guests are not mere observers but active participants in conservation efforts. They enhance their experience by engaging in hands-on conservation activities and learning how to protect endangered species. The photos they capture are more than just souvenirs; they are crucial for individual leopard identification using Artificial Intelligence tools. These images can be submitted through various channels, including lodge managers, the ACW citizen science platform, or directly to the On Track Foundation.
The benefits of this collaboration are manifold. Lodges that participate can market their contribution, attracting tourists with a "Travel with a purpose" mindset. As a result, they may see increased return visits and bookings due to their conservation focus. Additionally, lodge partners receive newsletters, regular reports, sighting maps, population estimates, and dynamics data. These insights are essential for implementing effective management practices, like creating wildlife corridors, and adapting policies such as determining hunting quotas.
But this partnership extends beyond lodges; it also includes residents of wildlife estates. These areas serve as ecological corridors for various species, including leopards. While some individuals are monitored using GPS collars, there is a need for broader data collection.
Wildlife estate residents can make a significant contribution by using the SMART conservation app on their smartphones. They can record important details, such as date, time, GPS location, number of individuals, and specific behaviors observed. Camera traps can also provide valuable images for leopard identification, which can be shared with the On Track Foundation and the ACW citizen science platform.
Staying in touch is essential to the success of this conservation effort. Subscribing to newsletters, following on social media, encouraging others to participate, and making donations are all ways to support evidence-based conservation management decisions.
In summary, this collaboration between safari lodges, guides, guests, and residents of wildlife estates is a pioneering effort to preserve endangered species, specifically leopards. By leveraging technology, photography, and the active participation of all stakeholders, this initiative aims to collect critical data and promote sustainable conservation practices that benefit these magnificent creatures and the ecosystems they inhabit.
Leopard sightings on Swebeswebe Nature Reserve
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