Conservation Hero of the Month: Cape Leopard Trust

Posted by Anita Froneman on 30 June 2022

Conservationists often work tirelessly behind the scenes, saving the planet and its animals one arduous day at a time. Whether it’s the ocean warriors, the animal lovers or the tree huggers, we want to show our appreciation and most importantly, our support.

Every month, we will interview an organisation or individual who inspires us. We hope they inspire you too.

June Conservation Hero of the Month: The Cape Leopard Trust. We chatted with Jeannie Hayward, Communications Manager at the Trust.

Cape Leopard Trust

A brief history of the Cape Leopard Trust

The Cape Leopard Trust (CLT) was founded in 2004 with the initial aim of researching leopards in the Cederberg Wilderness. Precious little was known about these mysterious cats and studying them was considered virtually impossible due to their elusive nature and the inhospitable terrain. With remote-sensing field cameras becoming more obtainable, and with the financial support of a few core funders, the quest to study them became feasible. In the 19-odd years since, the CLT has matured into an established and reputable organisation with research, conservation and education initiatives spanning the Western Cape.

What does the Cape Leopard Trust do?

The Cape Leopard Trust is a registered non-governmental, not-for-profit, public benefit organisation based in the Western Cape. We facilitate and promote the conservation of biological diversity, with a focus on the leopard as a flagship species. Our purpose and vision are to ensure the continued survival of leopards for the benefit of nature and society. We work to support the protection of leopard habitat and prey species, promote peaceful coexistence between leopards and people, and foster community custodianship of the Cape’s unique biodiversity. To achieve this we employ a three-pillar approach of research, conservation, and education. These three pillars operate in synergy within the Cape Leopard Trust and in collaboration with communities, private landowners and partner organisations.

The leopard’s conservation status 

Globally, leopards are classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN and their population trend is decreasing. There is no absolutely definitive total for the number of leopards in SA, and current estimates vary. Leopards in the Cape region (Western, Eastern and parts of the Northern Cape) exist at much lower densities than their bushveld and savanna counterparts, and their total population is not big at all.

Are leopards in the Western Cape a different species?

Currently, all leopards in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape are the same sub-species as the ones found elsewhere in Africa – they’re all Panthera pardus pardus. Although leopards in the Cape mountains are geographically isolated from other populations in SA, and have some unique morphological, ecological and genetic characteristics, it is not enough to classify them as a sub-species. We therefore do not call them ‘Cape leopards’ or ‘Cape mountain leopards’, but rather refer to this population as ‘leopards of the Cape’ or ‘leopards of the fynbos’ to avoid confusion, since ‘Cape leopard’ sounds like a different species of leopard, which it is not.

Interesting facts about leopards of the Cape

Leopards occur all along the mountainous regions of the Cape Fold Belt in the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape. The main determinants of leopard distribution are a suitable natural habitat and adequate prey. Apart from being beautiful, enigmatic creatures that epitomise wilderness, the leopard is also the apex (top) predator in the Cape, and by doing what is necessary to protect leopards, we can simultaneously protect their habitat and all the other animals that inhabit their ecosystem. In this regard, the leopard is a so-called umbrella species for conservation. Apex predators such as the leopard play a vital role in ensuring functioning ecosystems.

Leopards in the Cape are generally smaller with a slighter build than those found elsewhere in Africa, being about half the mass. On average, females in the Cape mountains weigh about 20kg and males about 35kg. Leopards in the Fynbos biome also have exceptionally large home ranges, with territories being more than 10-fold larger compared to leopards of the savanna.

Leopards are opportunistic and versatile hunters and prey on species ranging from lizards and rodents to hares, porcupines and even ungulates as large as eland. Typically, they appear to take prey in proportion to what is mostly available in a given area. Generally, in the Western Cape, species like rock hyrax (dassie), klipspringer, grysbok, duiker and porcupine are very important components of the leopard prey base. Leopards are ambush hunters and kill their prey by stalking and using the element of surprise, relying on their superb camouflage.

Leopards in the Cape are incredibly elusive and very seldom seen.

What are the main threats to leopards?

Although the leopard is an adaptable and fairly widespread species, they have lost 75% of their historical habitat worldwide. From a Western Cape perspective, the leopard is the last large predator and last member of the Big 5 to still roam free in the province. The main threats they face here are habitat loss and fragmentation due to urban and agricultural development, direct persecution in retaliation to livestock losses, and a reduction in their prey base as a result of bushmeat poaching. Other threats include too frequent large-scale veld fires, roads and traffic and rodent poisons.

Natural threats, especially to cubs, include other predators such as Black Eagles, snakes, disease and malnutrition. Leopards are also known to kill each other when vying for territory and will kill another leopard’s cubs when moving into new territory.

What can we do to help with the conservation of leopards?

-Contribute to leopard research by reporting leopard signs and sightings from the Western Cape on

-Buy CLT merchandise: go to

-Be Snare Aware: while enjoying time out in nature, be on the lookout for illegal snares. Cut and disarm these snares and report them to us. Also report any other suspicious activity like other types of traps and feral dogs. Members of conservancies, hiking clubs, MTB clubs, neighbourhood watches etc, can make concerted efforts to gather regularly for snare patrols/sweeps on private properties (following due process for permission from the owner/manager), similar to community-driven alien clearing hacks

-Spread awareness of the CLT and the need to protect leopard habitat and prey in order to ensure their continued survival.

-Drive slowly and carefully through mountainous areas to avoid hitting and injuring/killing wild animals – including leopards and their prey.

-Property owners: refrain from hunting / killing agricultural or garden ‘pests’ like porcupine, grysbok, duiker and hyrax – these are leopards’ main prey.

-Farmers: adopt holistic livestock husbandry practices to avoid conflict with leopards.

Donate: The CLT is entirely reliant on scientific grants, corporate funding, sponsorships, and private donations. Donations are tax-exempt and we can issue section 18A certification. You can donate here or contact us for EFT details.


[email protected]

082 337 0964 (Jeannie Hayward)


Cape Leopard Trust shares snapshots of the Overberg’s big cats



yoast-primary - 1004429
tcat - Nature And Conservation
tcat_slug - nature-and-conservation
tcat2 - Travel ideas
tcat2_slug - travel-ideas
tcat_final -