research projects, conservation, education, human animal conflict, leopards, community outreach
At Mpala Research Centre and neighbouring Loisaba conservancy, researcher Nicholas Pilfold from the Institute for Conservation Research at San Diego Zoo Global and his talented assistant Ambrose Lotualai are on a mission to help establish a sustainable leopard population in the area. This is in response to a worrying trend in decreasing leopard numbers.
Leopards have long been hunted for their soft fur, used to make pricey coats and ceremonial robes as well as for their claws, whiskers, and tails, which are popular as fetishes with local tribes. With human settlements encroaching on wildlife areas, leopards may prey on livestock. Some pastoralists retaliate and kill leopards in retribution or attempt to exterminate leopards to prevent livestock killings.
“Our mission here is to understand the dynamics of leopard populations and in turn, assess how this influences conflict with local communities,” says Pilford.
What the San Diego Zoo Global team hopes to unearth are the habits of a highly elusive predator. By setting up camera traps in strategic locations on both Mpala and Loisaba, the team collects data that will help inform solutions to the human-leopard conflict in the area. Another facet of the project is outreach–both locals informing the researchers and researchers explaining the benefits of conservation. Ambrose is constantly in touch with the local communities, both informing and interviewing residents about conservation efforts and, hard as it may be for them, the need to protect leopards. The Kenya Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (2013) stipulates that a genuine victim of human-wildlife conflict has a right to seek compensation.