Similar to dry lands, mountains have provided wildlife globally with an important refuge from both urban and rural land transformation. In the Western Cape of South Africa, the Cape Fold Mountains rise steeply from the heavily transformed plains and valleys resulting in a hard edge between this wildlife refuge and anthropogenic land use. This sets the scene for a diverse array of conservation conflicts ranging from baboons in vineyards to leopards and caracals on livestock farms.
iCWilds Baboon Research Unit (BRU) is internationally recognised for their long-term applied research on the iconic mountain dwelling chacma baboon in Cape Town. Baboons are regarded as the number one pest species in Africa, raiding both agricultural and urban properties. In the City of Cape Town raiding in residential areas had reached unsustainable levels and BRU in collaboration with the Baboon Technical Team (BTT comprised of the City of Cape Town, CapeNature and SANParks officials) and Swansea University researchers (Dr Andrew King, Dr Ines Fürtbauer and PhD Candidate Gaelle Fehlmann) provided data essential for improving management through revised plans and policy. This research has led to the development of arguably the most successful example of mitigating human-wildlife conflict on the urban edge with improved conservation and welfare status of the baboons and reduced raiding and higher property prices for the residents living in affected areas.
More recently iCWild’s Director Professor Justin O’Riain, postdoctoral student Dr Kirsten Wimberger and research assistant Mr Thys De Wet have been working with Forestry South Africa (FSA) through the Institute for Commercial Forestry and Research (ICFR) and the Baboon Damage Working Group to understand where, how and why baboons strip bark from plantation trees in the mountain regions of the Mpumalanga province, South Africa. After 4 years of workshops, data collection and analyses this research is currently being written up for peer reviewed publication. It is anticipated that the findings of this research will be important to formulating the long term management protocols for baboons in plantations both in South Africa and elsewhere in the subcontinent.
Carnivores also use mountains as refugia and iCWild has partnered with the Cape Leopard trust (CLT) through postdoctoral researcher Dr Laurel Serieys (supervised by Dr Jacqui Bishop and supported by Claude Leon Foundation and UCT) to work on the Urban Caracal Project(UCP) in the Cape Peninsula. Similar to the ongoing baboon research the UCP seeks to understand how urbanization has affected the behavioural ecology and anthropogenic threats to caracals.
Leopards have also benefitted from access to mountain refugia in the Western Cape and iCWild has been working with CLT’s Boland Project through Jeannie Hayward and with Dr Gareth Mann (Panthera) and Professor Dan Parker (University of Mpumalanga) in the Klein Karoo. Both projects are engaged with long-term monitoring of the last extensively distributed apex predator in the Western Cape, the Cape Leopard. All extant leopard populations are currently largely confined to mountain habitat and both projects are using camera traps to record leopard presence and GPS collars to understand movement through different landscapes.