Throughout the lockdown period, many images have been shared showing wildlife like leopards and lions roaming the empty streets typically lined with humans.

While residents have been loving these stories and spreading the rhetoric that animals are reclaiming their space, it’s not always entirely true.

Jeannie Hayward from the Cape Leopard Trust explains that seeing leopards out and about unfenced is not a novel occurrence. In fact, many leopards move freely in the Western Cape. Any leopard sightings in the country from the past few weeks is thus not a result of the lockdown.

“Many people still do not realise that there are wild leopards living free and unfenced in almost all of the mountainous regions of the Western Cape – and that they have been there since long before lockdown – even long before human settlement of the Cape Province,” said Hayward.

“Leopards in the Cape mountains are notoriously elusive and shy of people, and the best way to study them is by using remote-sensing field cameras. It’s not unusual to get images of leopards from the mountain slopes above Boland and Overstrand towns like Paarl, Stellenbosch, Grabouw, Gordon’s Bay and Kleinmond, yet so many people are still surprised to find out that they are there.”

Hayward does, however, admit that the leopards might be more brave to venture further down the mountain slopes now that there is less human activity. In addition, the typical cacophony of sounds and smells of human life like traffic, construction, and exhaust fumes, which act as deterrents for wildlife, are less.

“In the Western Cape, we are incredibly lucky to still have wild leopards persisting in the mountainous regions. But as human housing and agricultural developments encroaches further on our natural areas, it puts ever greater pressure on these habitats – the homes of our wild neighbours… ”

“Perhaps we could all use this time of lockdown to reflect on how we perceive the wild spaces around us and how we should conduct ourselves in these spaces, knowing that wildlife like leopards and so many other species were there first – and our actions are driving them closer and closer to the edge of existence.”

Picture: Rustenburg Wine Estate

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