Tag Archives: wildlife

What Does the Endangered Species Listing Mean for Lions?

In late December last year, the African lion received a special gift from the U.S. government. Over the past few years, non-profit groups, the national and international public, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service itself, have been rallying the government to protect lions under the Endangered Species Act. And just in time for Christmas last year, the king of cats got its name on the Act. But what does the listing really mean for lion conservation? In this blog we explore what an endangered listing on a U.S. document really means for an African species.

By Deirdre Leowinata

In the Chinese zodiac, 2015 was the year of the sheep. However, the illegal hunting of Cecil the lion, the Kenyan Marsh pride poisonings, and other highly publicized lion poaching incidents of 2015 made last year the year of the lion in the media. And as if by magic, a present came at the end of the year in the form of a “Threatened” listing for the African lion on the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Endangered Species Act of 1973, under the leadership of Richard Nixon, was a defining point in U.S. and global environmental protection. It made incredible leaps over the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 and the original Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. It not only recognized the value of species for education, research, and recreation, but also included species’ habitats under its umbrella of protection. In the original act, hunting and trading were not regulated at all. In less than 50 years, we have come a very long way in our policies for protecting wildlife. But we also live in an age where endangered species are disappearing faster than we can save them — scientists are calling it the sixth mass extinction. Conservation projects like our Northern Tanzania Big Cats Conservation Initiative have been working tirelessly to make sure that lions have a fighting chance as human and environmental changes put pressure on the remaining populations. However, lion numbers have declined by about 50% in the past 30 years, and the majority of the remaining populations are spread over only 10 regions in South and East Africa.

In 2011, five groups — the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Born Free, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Humane Society International petitioned the U.S. government for a listing for lions in the ESA. The petition prompted a formal review of the subspecies. In 2014, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service officially proposed ESA protection for lions after announcing that African lions were under threat of extinction by 2050. In December 2015, the landmark announcement was made: The African lion was under the protection of the ESA.

Internationally, the lion is already listed as “Vulnerable” under the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN 2015) Red List of Threatened Species.

So what does an American listing mean for lions? Wild lions don’t roam the United States, so how does a listing for a species in another country help?

 

  1. Hunting Permits

The largest win for the ESA listing is arguably the effects of a section of the act that affects sport hunting imports. Regulations for importing trophies ensure they come from countries with sound management plans and sustainable lion populations, with penalties for those who do not follow the rules. This not only ensures that U.S. trophy seekers hunt from viable populations, but also incentivizes countries that rely on sport hunting to maintain population management standards. It is also up to the hunter to demonstrate that all of these standards have been met, and that requirement alone might slow down the number of permits processed.

 

  1. International Trade

The U.S. is currently the world’s largest lion trophy importer, with 24 countries in Africa participating in the lion trade. Closely related to the hunting permit provisions, controlling what can be imported will have a strong impact on the number of lion products (including trophies) that are crossing the border and the integrity of their source countries. Because of the ESA provisions for sustainable management as mentioned above, the listing will ensure that American importers or international exporters are doing so in a way that will not impair lion populations.

 

  1. Provision of Assistance for Conservation Efforts

Under ESA protection, lions and the programs that protect them will gain access to more financial assistance, as well as more help on the ground. This part of the Act is vague, but because of the ESA mandate to protect critical habitat of listed species, conservation groups may be able to levy this for government funding. In the very least, it increases the funding potential for environmental non-profits, which often struggle to make small budgets stretch across programs.

 

  1. Symbolism

Like a handshake shared between two leaders, a gesture can send a very powerful message. By shielding lions under the proverbial wing, the U.S. is sending a message of solidarity to lion conservation groups and the rest of the world. Aside from the ways in which this document will aid in conservation funding and other assistance, a vote of support from the government can do a world of good in other ways.

 

At the African People & Wildlife Fund, we have committed to help conserve Tanzania’s lion populations through community-based projects, educating local people about the importance of the species, and continuing to work on projects like our Living Walls to prevent retaliatory lion killings, which the IUCN suggests is an even greater threat to lions than sport hunting. With your help, we are expanding our initiatives across rural communities in Northern Tanzania where most of these killings take place. Tanzania may be one of the last lion strongholds on Earth right now. Together with you and the new support of the ESA, we are extremely hopeful that we can help protect the lion populations of Tanzania so they can grow and thrive in Africa once more.

Echoing the words of hope from U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, this is an opportunity for change, and it is up to all of us to help save these big cats.

If you would like to contribute to our growing efforts to protect big cats on the ground in Tanzania, please visit our donation page here.

 

References

Bauer, H., Packer, C., Funston, P.F., Henschel, P. & Nowell, K. (2015). Panthera leo. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T15951A79929984.http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2015-4.RLTS.T15951A79929984.en. Downloaded on 30 December 2015.

Florida Museum of Natural History. History of the United States Endangered Species Act.https://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/education/ESA.htm. Accessed on 4 January 2016.

Platt, J.R. (2014). African Lions Face Extinction by 2050, Could Gain Endangered Species Act Protection. Scientific American (2014).

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (2014). Service Proposes Endangered Species Act Protection for the African Lion.

Born Free U.S.A. www.bornfreeusa.org

A Big Year for African Wildlife: Seven Milestones of 2015

This story was original published on National Geographic Cat Watch on January 15th, 2016.

 

Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.
Photo courtesy of Massimiliano Sticca.

With the closing of 2015 comes the end of a big chapter for Africa and its spectacular wildlife. Looking back on the year, we reflect on the big wins and big changes for wildlife conservation in this huge, unique continent. Here are the top seven milestones for African wildlife in 2015.

By Deirdre Leowinata

  1. The U.S. Government listed African Lions under the Endangered Species Act.

To cap a year that won the world over in a fervor of lion activism, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced in late December that it would put the king of cats on the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This means a few things, especially for hunting permits and conservation aid, but the significance is that lions have a new and influential official guardian.

  1. Cecil the Lion spurred policy changes and donations to wildlife conservation.

#CeciltheLion was by far the most famous animal of 2015, and is right up there with Mickey Mouse on the list of animals that have become a household name. The poaching of Cecil the Lion by Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer triggered a global outcry for lion conservation unlike any the world has seen. And it worked. Not only did Cecil ignite a rush of donations to big-cat conservation and other wildlife conservation groups but it affected policy as well. New policies in place or in the works include commitments to ban the import of lion trophies by France and Britain, and banning the transport of animal trophies by more than 40 airlines. Whether it affected the U.S. decision to list lions on the ESA is unknown, but it probably didn’t hurt.

  1. African nations pledged to restore 100 million hectares of forest by 2030.

In a massive United Nations initiative officially referred to as AFR100, more than a dozen of Africa’s 54 countries pledged to restore their forests in a continent-wide effort to combat climate change and protect ecosystems. These countries include hosts of some of the continent’s most precious landscapes, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Madagascar, both of which house the last remaining populations of some of the world’s most unique species.

  1. U.S. and Chinese governments joined forces to put a final ban on the ivory trade.

In September, the U.S. and Chinese governments announced an agreement to work together toalmost completely ban the import and export of ivory. If it plays out, the agreement is a monumental decision for African elephants. China is the world’s top ivory consumer, and stopping the trade could save 30,000 elephants a year.

  1. Pope Francis issued an encyclical on the environment, encouraging the entire Roman Catholic church to care for our planet.

Okay, we have to say it: Pope Francis has done a lot for everyone this year, but this is a big deal. The encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You), is a papal document that every bishop and every priest of the Roman Catholic church has an obligation to read, and every member of the church has an obligation to recognize. And not only does this papal document recognize manmade global warming but it also speaks to issues of pollution, water, biodiversity, human life, equality, and the ethics of it all.

  1. The UN recognized wildlife trafficking as a transnational crime.

After a UN General Assembly decision in July of this year, wildlife trafficking officially became a serious crime. The United Nations Environment Programme executive director, Achim Steiner, called the resolution “a historic step forward,” and it could well be a defining moment. The resolution not only called on nations to legislate and cooperate on illegal trafficking enforcement but also recognized its link with organized crime and suffering in local communities. It could mean the world to species such as the rhino that are on the brink of extinction.

  1. NGOs and Chinese Internet Kingpin Tencent joined forces for elephants.

The Nature Conservancy and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have partnered with Tencent, a major Chinese Internet company, to battle online wildlife trafficking and promote the conservation of elephants. In the bigger picture, the collaboration is the first conservation project Tencent has partnered on. It, along with the recent U.S.-China partnership, may be a sign of China’s changing attitudes on wildlife conservation, which could mean a whole lot more for wildlife from 2016 onwards.

 

And as a fun bonus…2015 also brought Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” music video, featuring a slew of beautiful African wildlife, including her very own lion friend. Now, celebrity endorsements can be a bit shallow, and the video may misguide viewers about the behavior of wild lions (we of course do not promote lion handling), but there’s something to be said for the reach of a music video with over 300 million views. An influencer is an influencer, and out of all the celebrities, Ms. Swift and her video are not bad to have on your side. Plus, all of the funds generated by the video went to the African Parks Foundation of America. Until now Swift has been very generous to humanities, but this is the first time she has donated to conservation efforts. Perhaps this could be the beckoning call we needed.

APW Winter Newsletter 2015

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Have you seen our winter newsletter? As we say farewell to 2015, we reflect on our past 10 years of work in Tanzania. From our innovative operation headquartered in the rural community of Loibor Siret on the southeastern boundary of Tarangire National Park, we are expanding our impact to communities across Northern Tanzania.

This year, we celebrate over 600 Living Walls in place, protecting the lives of over 100 of Tanzania’s lions, and over 100 000 cattle for 10 000 rural community members. We celebrate our women’s entrepreneurial groups, who started harvesting honey from their eco-friendly hives this past year. We celebrate Magayane Revocatus, our Conservation Education officer who is our second staff member to be named a Disney Conservation Hero. We celebrate our growing team of Warriors for Wildlife, local community members who have chosen to commit to work towards a brighter future for the wildlife in their communities. And of course we celebrate you — who continue to stand beside us and help us grow as we embark on our next decade in East Africa.

Thank you.

Read the full newsletter here, including a heartfelt thank you from our executive director Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld, and a debate in the science community on fencing Africa’s National Parks.

Are Fences the Solution for Protecting Africa’s National Parks?

An aerial image of the sharp line formed by the fence of a rhino sanctuary.
(Photo by George Wittemyer)

With the expansion of human populations, instances of human-wildlife conflict become increasingly frequent. One proposed solution to protect both people and wildlife is the implementation of fences around established protected areas. Many conservation scientists argue that these fences may do more harm than good. A recent paper published in June by some of the world’s most renowned conservation scientists gives policy makers the guidelines they need to decide whether a fence is the best solution for them.

By Deirdre Leowinata

Originally posted on National Geographic Cat Watch on Thursday July 9th, 2015

To fence or not to fence…

That is the question that has some members of the conservation community in knots. Subjects involving land use policy, such as the park size debate of the 1970s and 1980s, tend to garner attention both in and out of the scientific community, and fencing is no different. The outcomes of this particular battle have the potential to change the lives of millions of people as well as wildlife species dependent on some of the world’s most remarkable landscapes, so it might be wise to pay attention.

A recent paper co-authored by 45 scientists from around the world aims to help governments and policy-makers choose what protection plan is right for their parks by providing six critical factors to assess when making fencing decisions. The comprehensive paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, accounts for social and economic factors in addition to environmental ones. The factors are: economics, edge permeability, reserve design, connectivity, ecosystem services, and communities.

A fence in Mali-Gourma region, purpose unknown.
(Photo by Jake Wall)

In Africa, the subject of fencing is especially sensitive because many of its animals require large tracts of rangeland for seasonal migrations. The Serengeti-Mara ecosystem, for example, is home to the largest overland migration on the planet, with huge numbers of wildebeest and other hoofed animals moving around a 30,000-km2 area. The migration helps drive the regional patterns of biodiversity, including prey availability for the big cats. Closer to our headquarters on the Maasai Steppe, Tanzania’s Tarangire National Park makes for a perfect example of a dry season haven, with some of Tanzania’s highest concentrations of wildlife migrating into the area when the seasonal rains stop – including one of Africa’s only growing population of elephants. Fencing lands such as the Serengeti or Tarangire National Parks could significantly and permanently alter entire processes and landscapes by keeping ecosystem engineers such as wildebeest and elephants from their regular migrations. Those consequences would almost certainly trickle down to the communities inhabiting those regions and may also have unintended and ironic effects on the animals they’re built to protect.

A wildebeest dies after it is caught in a fence in Mara Kenya
(Photo by Jackson Looseyia)

Despite the uncertainty of fencing effects on ecosystems, certain African countries have already taken steps in new directions. Rwanda has fenced the 120-km border of its Akagera National Park in an attempt to stem human-wildlife conflict — at a cost of $2.5 million. Human-wildlife conflict may be the most common reason to fence protected areas; Uganda is leaning toward fencing all of its parks, and Malawi is contemplating using electric fence on all of its parks.

There are, as the authors do point out, multiple positive draws to fencing. Fences can be used to stop disease transmission, prevent the entry of invasive species, and curb direct resource extraction. In certain cases, such as the Australian drylands, fencing may currently be the best solution. However, because of the weighty financial and potential ecological costs of such an undertaking, it must be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

cheetah_Laly
 (Photo by African People & Wildlife Fund/Laly Lichtenfeld)

Dryland ecosystems such as those in the Serengeti-Mara system of East Africa account for 41% of the world’s land and house a large percentage of the world’s biodiversity as well as 2 billion of its people. As the paper points out, those 2 billion people include some of the world’s most marginalized communities, such as the semi-nomadic Maasai tribe that dominates the East African communities where we work. The African People & Wildlife Fund has spent the last 10 years developing strategies to reduce human-wildlife conflict that benefit both parties, with very encouraging results. In Northern Tanzania, access to resources such as seasonal water holes and grazing lands are necessary to support the communities of people and wildlife that have lived here for hundreds of years. In these landscapes, the reduced mobility that a fence might cause could mean the loss of either an iconic culture, or an iconic cat. This reinforces the need to develop solutions that promote coexistence, keeping both cats and cultures alive.

 

References:

Borner, M. (1985). The increasing isolation of Tarangire National Park. Oryx 19: 91-96.

Durant, S.M., Becker, M.S., Creel, S., Bashir, S., Dickman, A.J., Beudels-Jamar, R.C., Lichtenfeld, L., Hilborn, R., Wall, J., Wittemyer, G., Badamjav, L., Blake, S., Boitani, L, Breitenmoser, C., Broekhuis, F., Christianson, D., Cozzi, G., Davenport, T.R.B., Deutsch, J., Devillers, P., Dollar, L., Dolrenry, S., Douglas-Hamilton, I., Dröge, E., FitzHerbert, E., Foley, C., Hazzah, L., Hopcraft, J.G.C., Ikanda, D., Jacobson, A., Joubert, D., Kelly, M.J., Milanzi, J., Mitchell, N., M’Soka, J., Msuha, M., Mweetwa, T., Nyahongo, J., Rosenblatt, E., Schuette, P., Sillero-Zubiri, C., Sinclair, A.R.E., Price, M.R.S., Zimmerman, A., and N. Pettorelli (2015). Developing fencing policies for dryland ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology 52: 544-551.

Holdo R.M., Holt, R.D., and J.M. Fryxell (2009). Opposing rainfall and plant nutritional gradients best explain the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. The American Naturalist 173: 431-445.

10 Years of People & Wildlife [VIDEO]

Full article published on National Geographic Cat Watch

Just ten years ago, two young explorers set up camp by a small acacia at the top of a hill given to them by the rural Tanzanian community of Loibor Siret. That camp was to eventually become a permanent base for the African People & Wildlife Fund’s conservation programs focusing on the lions of the Maasai Steppe – a program that now protects thousands of head of livestock and 100 lions every year with over 500 Living Walls. With one side of the hill looking to the community rangelands and the other side looking to the eastern edge of Tarangire National Park, a flagship haven for African biodiversity, the location was a perfect metaphor for the work they set out to do.

Those two explorers were Dr. Laly Lichtenfeld and Charles Trout, now directors of the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW). What started as a tent on top of a land rover has grown into an operation that spans 19 communities across 30 000 km2 of Northern Tanzanian rangelands. The small two-man tent has been replaced by the Noloholo Environmental Center, a one-of-a-kind emblem combining traditional architecture and sustainable design that stands on top of the hill where it all started and marks the organization’s headquarters in Tanzania. The newly released 2014 Annual Report highlights the milestones of the last ten years, and as we celebrate a decade of success on the Steppe we invite you to share in celebrating Big Cats and Communities in Northern Tanzania.

This video highlights the journey we have taken over these past 10 years, and the strong relationships that have stemmed from it:

Camp Critters (I Spy with My Little Eye)

Living in the bush has its ups and downs, but one of the biggest ups (or perhaps downs to some) is being able to expect to find a new friend – furry, scaly, or otherwise – almost every day. This summer, we have been very lucky to receive visits from a variety of the local inhabitants from every part of the food chain, including a few shy ones that seem to have worked up the courage to say hi!

It seems to be a very sssweet summer for the snakes here at Noloholo because they have been popping up in some curious places.  It can get pretty hot out when the sun is high in a cloudless sky up here on our hill, and ectotherms like snakes have to physically move themselves into warmer or colder locations to regulate their body temperatures. Our first visitor was a beautiful young puff adder who decided that the best place for shade was our environmental centre one afternoon during a visit with Dr. Sarah Durant of the Serengeti Cheetah Project and the National Geographic Big Cats Initiative. The snake appeared in almost surreal clarity, as if sharpened to perfection. In the sun, each scale – olive, gold, and brown – was visible in full detail. If you ever get the chance to see one in the wild, you will be sure to be struck by its beauty, along with some amount of fear depending on how ophidiophobic you are. They are, after all, responsible for a large chunk of the snake-related fatalities in Africa.

 

Puff Adder

This puff adder is just one of the guests we had in our environmental center this summer.

Speaking of ophidiophobia, the fear of snakes, would you go for a run knowing that one of the deadliest snakes in the world was hanging around? The black mamba is named not for its skin colour, but for its mouth, which starts to resemble death itself if you stare into the seemingly endless black hole for long enough. The silhouette of a rising mamba, which can easily lift two-thirds of its muscular body off the ground, is enough to strike fear into even the bravest warrior, let alone a new father taking his daughter for a stroll.

Then, there was the central African rock python. The biggest snake in Africa, and it snuck into our environmental centre (which seems to be a popular place) without any trouble. What’s more, it managed to climb just above the doorway for a quick nap without anyone noticing until an intern with a keen eye for snakes noticed its sleeping figure. Luckily, our wildlife intern had some experience with snake handling, and after a little bit of MacGyvering, a lot of manoeuvering, and a few pictures, she was able to set the snake out into a more suitable place for a nap. It was only a baby, after all.

On the Maasai Steppe, the night brings a cacophony of noises, and no night is exactly the same. The strangely harmonious hollow call of the hyena and the distant (or sometimes not-so-distant) moans of a lion pride are truly unique and magical experiences when you’re sleeping under a billion shining stars. One of the most haunting sounds, however, is the sound of a herd of frightened zebra whooping loudly as they run from a pride of lions. The scattered calls are sure to echo in your mind for years afterwards. Especially when, the next morning, the reason for the night chorus becomes apparent with the body of a young zebra sitting next to the staff fire pit. Those moments ensure that the circle of life, both the concept and the song, still sit in the back of your mind.

As old Murphy (as well as all the data on big cat vs. snake densities) would have it, the number of times we saw snakes this summer outnumbers the number of times we saw lions in camp. However, the lions continue to remind us of their presence with their nighttime taunts. It’s funny how many animals you can see when you’re not studying them.

Noloholo Environmental Summer Camps Off to a Great Start

Children from the villages of Loibor Siret and Narakauo arrived yesterday morning for the first week of the Noloholo Environmental Summer Camps. After the first day we are pleased to see these shy, polite kids warming up to the staff here at Noloholo. For the next week they’ll be participating in a wide range of activities and lessons.

Our wildlife monitoring intern, Kelly Stoner with some of the kids bird watching on the patio at the Noloholo Environmental Center.

Our wildlife monitoring intern, Kelly Stoner with some of the kids bird watching on the patio at the Noloholo Environmental Center.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday afternoon, Talia, our environmental education intern gave a lesson on how to create compost.  On several visits to the communities, APW was concerned about the trash disposal, and we hope that by giving the children the tools and information they need they can help create compost heaps in their communities and homes.

Talia Calnek-Sugin, our environmental education intern, giving her lesson on composting.

Talia Calnek-Sugin, our environmental education intern, giving her lesson on composting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the week, there will be daily bird watching and everyday the children will have a different lesson on the environment and conservation in Tanzania. Before today’s lunch they had a lesson on the history of Tanzanian conservation, which was taught by Neo, our environmental education officer. Neo also taught a lesson on beekeeping. Many of the kids were dressed in costumes and helped depict the life of a bee for the other children. The classroom here at Noloholo has begun to erupt with laughter and applause since the arrival of the kids.

The kids had a binocular lesson yesterday and went outside to apply what they had learnt in the classroom.

The kids had a binocular lesson yesterday and went outside to apply what they had learnt in the classroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow afternoon our wildlife monitoring intern, Kelly, will be taking the children out to see the camera traps at a nearby korongo. She is preparing a short lesson on how they gather information from the cameras and the many species of animals that APW has caught on the traps.

Rachel, a Noloholo Environmental Scholar, misses a volley during a friendly volleyball game after the day's activities.

Rachel, a Noloholo Environmental Scholar, misses a volley during a friendly volleyball game after the day’s activities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some of our environmental scholars will be joining us for the camps, helping the officers with the children and participating in the fun lessons and activities we have planned. Many of them are veterans to the camp, and are attending for the fourth year in a row. They are proving to be great role models for our younger campers who could be our newest potential scholars.

When the dinner bell rings, the footballs stop rolling and the boys stop playing.

When the dinner bell rings, the footballs stop rolling and the boys stop playing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be considered for the camps, the children were given an exam testing them on the various lessons they have learnt in the Wildlife Clubs. APW chose the top 5 students from the villages Loibor Siret, Narakauo, Kimotorok and Kangala.

June E-News Update!

If you would like to read our most recent update from the Maasai Steppe, please click here.

If you would like to subscribe to our e-news updates and biannual newsletter, please visit our website, www.afrpw.org and click on “Subscribe to Official Newsletter” at the bottom left of the page or go to our Facebook page and click on “Get Noloholo News” at the top of the page.

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Can you spot the match?

Did you know that a leopard’s spots (also called rosettes) are individual, like a fingerprint?

Yesterday we presented our Facebook fans with a little challenge. Here’s a link to the challenge and our page. Please like us if you can!

If you guessed that photos 2 & 3 were matches…you’re correct!

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3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are two photos of the same female leopard nicknamed “Ua” (Swahili for “flower”) for the flower-like collection of rosettes on her flank, shown in the red circles below.

Ua 2

Ua 3

 

 

 

 

 

Here at APW we are working with community members on the Maasai Steppe to reduce the number of attacks on livestock by wild carnivores. But we need to know how many lions, cheetahs and leopards are living here in order to know whether or not our work is having a positive impact. By using camera traps we can collect the data we need without disturbing the animals. After the photos are collected, we carefully study each image to match that cat to our files and use some fancy statistics to estimate how many leopards we have. By doing the same type of count year after year, we’ll be able to develop an understanding of the long-term changes in the local population of leopards.

– Kelly, wildlife monitoring intern