A recent article in The Conversation presented the effects of urbanisation and agricultural activity on leopard populations in South Africa. According to the article leopards are versatile predators that can successfully occupy any habitat with enough prey species and adequate cover for their ambush-style of hunting. Leopards also adapt well to settled environments near human activity, but this often brings them into conflict with humans.
In South Africa it’s been clear since the late 1980s that although protected areas play an important role in leopard conservation, most of the country’s suitable leopard habitat lies outside the boundaries of protected areas, often on private or community-owned land.
This means that leopards must navigate their way across land dedicated to human development, agriculture or mining practices. As a result, they are exposed to an array of physiological, environmental and psycho-social factors that could cause stress.
Acute stress is essential for vertebrate survival. For example, hunting an impala may be stressful in the short term, but a successful kill equates to survival. In contrast, successive or simultaneous stressors experienced over prolonged periods of time, such as constantly having to avoid human interaction, can result in chronic stress. This, in combination with other factors could affect this already vulnerable species’ long-term health and survival.