Responsible tourism: Leopard volunteering vacation Western Cape, South Africa
This expedition focuses on monitoring two of Africa’s iconic cats: the threatened Cape mountain leopard and the caracal, in an effort to mitigate conflict with farmers and thereby contributing significantly to cat survival and their conservation. Working in the unique biome of South Africa’s Cape Floral Kingdom (fynbos) – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s only biome contained within one country – the expedition will also conduct a larger biodiversity survey, focusing on cat prey species such as antelopes, as well as birds and vegetation. The ultimate goal is to develop a remote monitoring technique that will better inform landowners of the status of their prey wildlife and predatory cats, identify potential conflict areas, and use the knowledge gained to mitigate conflicts.
Almost all of Africa is under some sort of human impact and the Cape Floral Kingdom (fynbos) is no exception. Much wildlife roams on understaffed, underfinanced, remote, mountainous nature reserves where monitoring is difficult; or on private farmland where landowners have mixed attitudes to perceived problem animals such as leopards, caracal, jackal, baboons and bushpig. The Cape mountain leopard is one of South Africa’s TOPS (Threatened Or Protected Species), which restricts legal hunting, but the laws are near impossible to enforce. There is a strong farmer lobby pushing for greater control of ‘pest’ species, and anecdotal evidence suggests control by legal and illegal methods is widespread across the country.
Wherever humans and wildlife come together, conflicts tend to appear, and human-wildlife conflict has been identified as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity worldwide. Sound scientific knowledge is key to mitigating this conflict and to making wise management decisions that balance the need of humans, wildlife and the environment. We believe that knowledge is the key to conservation and the most effective way to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.
The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots and as such a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is dominated by a fire-driven ecosystem – the fynbos biome with unsurpassed botanical richness: 7,000 of 9,000 plant species that are found here are endemic. It is in the flower-filled Cape Fold Mountains of South Africa that the Cape mountain leopard is found – a leopard half the size of the savannah leopards of Africa, but with home ranges twice the size. In 2008 the IUCN (International Union for the Conervation of Nature) classified leopards as Near Threatened, stating that they may soon qualify for the Vulnerable status due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Indeed, they are becoming increasingly rare outside protected areas.
The study site is a registered Nature Reserve and it is an obligation of management to undertake biodiversity monitoring. We will be conducting a variety of biodiversity monitoring activities, because resources that are not measured are rarely considered when management or planning decisions are made. Biodiversity is the amount of diversity between different plants, animals and other species in a given habitat at a particular time. Some evidence exists that shows that by protecting keystone or flagship species (such as the leopard and caracal), other biodiversity can also benefit.
We are a multi-award winning (including multiple awards from Responsible Travel), not-for-profit organisation committed to running real wildlife conservation research expeditions to all corners of the Earth and says
Our projects are not tours, photographic safaris or excursions but genuine research expeditions, promoting sustainable conservation and preservation of the planet's wildlife by forging alliances between scientists and the public. Our goal is to make, through our expedition work, an active contribution towards a sustainable biosphere. We believe in empowering ordinary people by placing them at the centre of scientific study and by actively involving them out in the field, where there is conservation work to be done.
We always work in close conjunction with local people and scientists and try our best to ensure that the fruits of our expedition work benefit our local helpers, their society and the environment they live in. Adventure, remote locations, different cultures and people are part and parcel of our expeditions, but also the knowledge that you will have played an active role in conserving part of our planet's biosphere. We exist for those who, through their hands-on work, want to make a difference to the survival of the particular species or habitat under investigation, and to the world at large. We invite everyone to come and join us out in the field, at the forefront of conservation, to work, learn, experience and take responsible guardianship of our planet.
To achieve this we will wherever possible: + collaborate with reputable scientists, research institutions and educational establishments (wherever possible from the host nation) who are experts in their field + collaborate with organisations and businesses which operate in an ethical and/or sustainable way + operate in an ethical and sustainable way, minimising negative impacts on local cultures, environments and economies + publish results and recommendations based on collaborative work together with those who helped gather data and draw conclusions.
The main partner for this expedition is Blue Hill Nature Reserve. In turn, conservation partners for Blue Hill are CapeNature (responsible for the management of Western Cape province nature reserves), Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism agency (responsible for the management of the Baviaanskloof Megareserve), the BaviaansWes-Hartbeesrivier Conservancy (a local community of landowners involved in the clearing of alien vegetation). Blue Hill also supports a variety of research and conservation initiatives, for instance CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) and the Landmark Foundation (a leopard and predator research and conservation organisation). On the education front, Blue Hill hosts students and staff of Living Lands (a collaboration working on living landscapes based in the eastern Baviaanskloof).
All missions are developed with local partners and scientists, as well as community representatives where appropriate. This consultation serves to minimise negative impacts on local cultures. This is often developed through a more complete integration into the local community, by working alongside them to achieve a conservation objective.
Accommodation varies from fixed camps, jungle lodges to tents. Where applicable, these will be owned locally.
Where possible food is sourced from locally supplied produce and ideally from organic sources.
Where applicable, team members are encouraged to spend their relaxation time using local facilities and resources.
We always work in close conjunction with local people and makes sure that the fruits of our work benefit local helpers, their society and the environment they live in.
Briefings before the start of the mission and leaders during the mission highlight relevant social issues and offer best practice examples to team members.