June 2011 Newsletter

Panthera Scientist Profiled as One of the ‘Top 200 Young South Africans’ by Mail & Guardian

Tristan Dickerson, Panthera's Leopard Program Coordinator and lead field scientist with Panthera’s South Africa-based Munyawana Leopard Project, has been chosen as one of the Mail & Guardian’s ‘Top 200 Young South Africans’. Each year, Mail & Guardian profiles 200 innovative leaders under the age of 35 who are leading a new generation of South Africans and who are making a tremendous impact on the country. Dickerson was chosen as a Top Young South African for his groundbreaking approach to saving South Africa’s rapidly dwindling wild leopard population.

“I’m truly honored to have been selected as one of Mail & Guardian’s ‘Top 200 Young South Africans,” said Dickerson. “It is motivating that conservation efforts gain such prestigious recognition not only for the people involved but also for their causes. Wild leopards of South Africa are under increasing threat from the illegal leopard skin trade and I’m hoping this award will help shine a light on this issue and bring about a solution which will make all parties happy”.

Leopard skins are in increasing demand among members of South Africa’s Shembe Baptist Church, which has adopted the Zulu practice of wearing spotted cat fur (mainly leopard) during religious celebrations. Although trade in leopard skins is illegal in South Africa, the practice is widespread and expanding among the Shembe’s estimated 5 million members. In order to reduce demand for real leopard skins, Dickerson has spent the past year working with digital designers and clothing companies to create a high-quality and affordable faux leopard skin which he will present at the next annual Shembe gathering in July. His work is also the focus of an hour-long documentary, To Skin A Cat, currently in production.

“This is conservation at its most innovative,” said Dr. Luke Hunter, Panthera’s Executive Vice President, who hired Dickerson in 2005. “Tristan is an incredible field scientist with an intimate understanding of leopards from years of direct observation but more importantly, he isn’t content simply collecting data. He has turned his deep knowledge of leopards towards finding solutions to the issues that most threaten them. This recognition is well deserved; he is one of Panthera’s young stars producing real solution’s for the conservation challenges facing big cats”.

Today, only an estimated 400 leopards live in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province where the Shembe church is strongest. Between 2004-2008, just one supplier of Shembe religious attire in KZN was arrested for possessing skins of at least 150 leopards. Panthera's Munyawana Leopard Project, now in its ninth year running, has introduced conservation interventions to reduce human-leopard conflict over livestock depredation and improve the sustainability of trophy hunting of leopards, which has helped double the leopard population in this region since 2005. Tristan hopes his solution to the skin trade will secure the future of the species once and for all.

Watch videos and read articles on the state of South Africa’s leopards and Panthera’s efforts to curb the decline of this species.


Breaking Records and Uncovering the Secret Lives of Snow Leopards in Mongolia

Khavar, a male snow leopard who joined the Mongolia study in April of 2010, orients himself to his surroundings after having his collar replaced this Spring.

Just weeks into the start of this year’s snow leopard collaring season, Swedish Ph.D. student Orjan Johansson collared a record four snow leopards in a 20 night period! Two of the cats were females new to the Mongolia-based study (one named ‘Lasya’ or ‘great beauty’ in Mongolian and the other named ‘Anu’ after a famed Mongolian warrior princess); the other two were Aztai and Khavar, whose collars needed to be replaced.

This collaring session happened to be the most successful to date, which is no surprise, as Orjan has proven to be extremely adept at capturing and collaring the most elusive of the wild cats – the snow leopard or ‘Ghost of the Mountains’ – of which few people have ever glimpsed in the wild. Today, Orjan leads the first-ever, long-term comprehensive study of snow leopards in South Gobi, Mongolia, collaboratively operated by Panthera and the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT). Within the first two and a half years of the study, Orjan collared 14 snow leopards, which is equivalent to the total number of collarings in all previous snow leopard studies dating back to the early 1980’s.


Khavar’s paw is inspected by Orjan during his recent re-collaring.

The high-tech GPS collars placed on these snow leopards provide an unprecedented amount of data on the size of their populations, the extent and use of their territories, and their interactions with other snow leopards as well as with local human communities.

Another incredible milestone for the Mongolia study was achieved last week when the total number of snow leopard GPS locations reached the 10,000 mark! These locations are transmitted from the cats’ GPS collars via satellite phones to our researchers as emails approximately every five hours. To put this accomplishment in perspective, in the most productive previous study, four snow leopards were collared during a three year period, which produced just over 700 locations.


‘Lasya,’ which means ‘great beauty’ in Mongolian, is one of the newest female snow leopards to join the Mongolian study. Lasya is shown here just after her first collaring by Orjan.

The number of collars deployed and the number of cat locations obtained demonstrate the significant strides recently made in this study. Yet, it is the insight that our researchers have gained into the survival and mortality of snow leopards by utilizing GPS collars that makes this study so important for the conservation of this endangered species. As an example, two male snow leopards included in the study named Aztai and Tsagaan were found to have adjacent and slightly overlapping home ranges. Despite the proximity of their ranges, Aztai and Tsagaan mostly kept their distance from one another, using scent marks and scrapes to mark their territories.


Tsagaan looking back at Orjan after receiving his first collar in 2009.

In early April, we were all saddened to learn that Tsagaan had died (most likely as a result of natural disease), leaving his 400 km2 range to a successor. After learning this news, we were curious to learn how Aztai would react to this potential shift in power – would he seize Tsagaan’s territory, move in and leave his old range, or once satisfied that a former rival was gone, revert to his old home range and movement patterns? We didn’t have to wait long to find out. Aztai’s collar began sending GPS signals from the middle of Tsagaan’s former range within a matter of days - he had wasted no time moving in to this recent vacancy.

Almost immediately after Tsagaan’s death, Aztai moved into the core area of his former rival and has remained there exclusively ever since. The 230 locations we have received from Aztai’s collar in the 2 months since Tsagaan died, (shown in yellow) are overlaid on Tsagaan’s historic locations (shown in red).

See more maps of the two snow leopards’ movements.

Aztai has just received a new collar that will allow our researchers to further ascertain how snow leopards react to opportunities to expand their home ranges and their diversity of mates. Never before could we have watched such a natural and fascinating process unfold. With seven snow leopards currently fitted with GPS collars, including three males and four females, we will continue to unlock the secrets of the snow leopard that will allow us to improve our conservation efforts for the species across their range.

Learn more about Panthera’s Snow Leopard Conservation Program.

See Panthera’s Snow Leopard Brochure.

Additional Photos:

Aztai, being kept warm by a pink hot-water bottle, during his examination and collaring last year.

Aztai the ‘camo cat’ stares back at the camera. .

Caption: Khavar in a July 2010 camera trap photo. .

Caption: Orjan on a 4-wheeler in search of the elusive snow leopard.


Panthera Applauds IBAMA & Brazil’s Federal Police on Bust of Illegal Hunting Operation

Panthera congratulates the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Brazilian Federal Police on their successful uncovering of an illegal hunting operation using ecotourism as its cover in the Brazilian Pantanal. Shockingly, this operation had organized and sold jaguar and puma hunts for tourists paying up to R$40,000 (24,748 USD). The regional office of IBAMA Corumbá fined the ranch owner and tour operator R$105,000 (65,016 USD) for the crime of illegally hunting wildlife for tourism purposes including the jaguar, now classified as ‘Near Threatened’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the puma.

Read Panthera’s Press Release about this story.

Learn about Panthera’s work to protect the jaguar through the Pantanal Jaguar Project.

See the award winning short film about jaguar conservation produced by Panthera – My Pantanal


Panthera Executive Vice President Luke Hunter Explores Conservation Best Practices at Bozeman Mountain Lion Conference

Panthera Executive Vice President Dr. Luke Hunter presented the keynote address at this year’s Mountain Lion Workshop in Bozeman, Montana, where he drew upon the expertise and results of long-term research projects like the Teton Cougar Project and others across the United States to demonstrate how conservation ideas developed for cougars in the US are being translated in South Africa to conserve leopards, with unique results.

Read Panthera’s Press Release about this story.

Learn about Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project and the Munyawana Leopard Project.

Click here to read scientific and popular articles and watch videos on the recovery of the Phinda leopards and the Munyawana Leopard Project.


Panthera Now Accepting Applications for the 2011 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation

The application period for the 2011 Rabinowitz-Kaplan Prize for the Next Generation in Wild Cat Conservation is now open through July 15, 2011. Each year, Panthera’s Cat Advisory Council awards a prize to a special individual who has made a significant contribution to conserving wild cats, and who represents the next generation of scientists, conservationists, policy makers, politicians, and planners who will pave the future for wild cat conservation. The prize winner is someone who has and will continue to work tirelessly to contribute, in a significant way, to the conservation of the world’s wild cats.

To apply, download the prize application and submit this form to Justine Oller at grants@panthera.org. The application deadline is July 15, 2011.

Read about previous prize winners, including the 2010 prize recipient and Panthera’s Biological Field Scientist for the Jaguar Corridor Initiative program, Omar Antonio Figueroa.

Learn about Panthera’s other Grants and Prizes.


Panthera's Father's Day E-Cards

Father’s Day is this Sunday, June 19th. This year, consider giving a gift to big cats in honor of your Dad. Send him one of Panthera’s $5 Father’s Day e-cards and help ensure a future for the world’s wild cats.


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Latest Publications

Grandes vertebrados como OdC en el Magdalena Medio y los Llanos Orientales
Authors: Angélica Díaz-Pulido, Angélica Benítez,Carlos Mario Wagner & Esteban Payán Garrido