KNYSNA NEWS - While it's not exactly a regular occurrence, if you spend enough time in the Knysna forests you're bound to spot a Cape leopard at some point, so here is a small guide to what you can expect of a Cape leopard.
The Cape leopard, which falls under the African leopard subspecies Panthera pardus pardus, is notoriously shy and elusive according to Jeannie Hayward, the Cape Leopard Trust's Boland project researcher and spokesperson.
She pointed out that they prefer areas that provide sufficient vegetation or rocky cover due to their hunting nature.
"Leopards are ambush hunters, so they mostly hunt where there is sufficient vegetation or rocky cover for a successful ambush. This, again coupled with their secretive nature, dictates that they will mostly spend time in rocky or thickly vegetated areas where they feel safe and secure," Hayward explained. "The dense Knysna and Tsitsikamma forests should represent just this habitat, and trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers who spend lots of time in these forests may be more likely to see a leopard:"
While you might think that this gives people who shy away from the outdoors even more reason to stay indoors, Hayward pointed out that leopards in the Cape mountains are generally rather timid. "Although one should obviously always be exceedingly cautious when encountering any predator, leopards in the Cape mountains are generally extremely wary of people and will readily retreat – except when threatened or cornered," Hayward said. "A leopard sighting in the Cape is normally very brief – the leopard will appear as if from nowhere, stand still for a few seconds, and then disappear into the fynbos once more."
What to do when you spot one
Hayward further explained the best course of action when encountering a leopard. "The best reaction is to just stay calm, stand very still and wait for the cat to move on," she said. "Do not run away or crouch down. If for some reason it does not back away and seems threatening, then a slow retreat without turning your back is the wisest thing to do.
"Mostly, this sort of antagonistic behaviour is indicative of the cat trying to tell you to push off, so don't linger and challenge it. Throwing sticks or stones is not advisable unless in final self-defence, since it may provoke an attack."
In conclusion, Hayward said one should rather revel in the moment. "If you encounter a leopard, you should consider yourself extremely fortunate – savour the moment, take a picture."
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