Munyawana Leopard Project


The Munyawana Leopard Project is a shining example of how good science can impact policies for the benefit of a species. Using scientific data collected over the years, Panthera has helped rewrite public policy regulating leopard trophy hunting and the management of "problem" animals in the region. We are also working with local communities to improve their livestock husbandry techniques and reduce leopard-human conflicts.

Humans and Leopards

Due to their wide distribution, leopards are one of the most extensively persecuted wild cats in the world. Within some South African communities, leopards are hunted for their beautiful skins, which are often used for traditional ceremonial purposes. Pastoralists also frequently hunt leopards in retribution for livestock loss.

Tracking the African Leopard

Panthera's Munyawana field scientists work intensively to monitor leopards using camera trap surveys and radio collars. These data inform our staff on basic leopard ecology, use of their range, and interactions with local communities and livestock, all of which helps shape our regional conservation initiatives.
Informing Policy and Effecting Change

Leopard skin garments for sale at a Shembe religious cermony, South AfricaLeopards are one of the most wide-ranging carnivore species on the planet, with a distribution that spans much of Africa and Asia as well as parts of the Middle East and south-eastern Europe. The vast majority of leopards are found outside of protected areas and, consequently, they are the most persecuted large felid in the world. They are hunted by farmers and pastoralists because of the real and perceived threat they pose to livestock; they are legally targeted by commercial trophy hunters, and they are killed by poachers for traditional uses that range from ceremonial dress to folk medicine.

Despite such widespread persecution, leopards are often assumed to warrant low conservation priority. Although there have been numerous studies on the ecology and behaviour of leopards, the conservation concerns of the species have rarely been addressed. Accordingly, Dr. Luke Hunter, Panthera’s President, established the Munyawana Leopard Project in andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

Leopards are protected inside Phinda and other reserves in the province, but are widely persecuted when they range beyond park boundaries. Intensive monitoring by Panthera field biologists using radio-telemetry and camera trap surveys revealed that mortality rates of leopards in Phinda were more than double than previously recorded for the species.

Leopard sitting in grass, flowersThere was also little evidence of successful reproduction in the population. Hunting levels outside the reserve were high enough to ensure the protected population was declining. In response, Panthera and the local wildlife authority, Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife, worked to rewrite legislation regulating the trophy hunting and control of “problem” leopards. Our field staff also worked with neighboring farmers and communities to promote the use of alternative husbandry techniques that reduce the risk of livestock depredation and improve tolerance towards leopards.

As a result of these conservation interventions, the Munyawana Leopard Project doubled the number of leopards living in andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve.

Panthera's leopard expert, Dr. Guy Balme, carefully fixes Today, the Munyawana Leopard Project continues to ensure that the new regulations are sustainable in the long term; this is a shinning example of how sound science can impact conservation policies that benefit wildlife. We are also working to reduce human-leopard conflict more widely in KwaZulu-Natal, and to address a growing threat in the illegal trade of leopard skins. Panthera is also extending our conservation model to other regions in Africa by forging partnerships with governments, hunting operators, communities, private landowners, game farm associations and wildlife managers. 

Panthera staff documenting this leopard's whisker spot patterns for future identification, South Africa

Leopards are often recognized by their whisker spot patterns, which is taken from the uppermost row of whisker spots (as indicated by the arrows) on their right and left cheeks. This leopard's whisker spot pattern is 2:1.


Learn more about the Munyawana Leopard Project.

Learn more about Panthera’s Furs for Life Leopard Project.

Learn more about Munyawana Leopard Project's Research Techniques:

Publications on Panthera’s Leopard Conservation Initiatives

Click here to: Meet the Leopard

Watch the Munyawana Leopard Project featured on CNN Inside Africa

Saving South Africa's Leopards

New Research to Save Africa's Leopards

leopard Programs

leopard in the wild Munyawana Leopard Project | Informing Policy and Effecting Change
Furs for Life Furs For Life Leopard Project | Protecting Leopards with Fake Furs
Project Pardus Project Pardus | Saving the World’s Most Persecuted Big Cat

Panthera on the Ground

Home to Kruger National Park, among other reserves, this province teems with an abundance of both wildlife and nearly 5.5 million people. Despite the growth of rural and urban settlements in the region, a University of Pretoria study recently found that a large proportion of Limpopo province (nearly 63%) serves as viable habitat for local leopard populations.

Click here to learn more about the Leopards of Limpopo

How you can help leopards right now: