Living with Leopards

The vastly different experiences of tourists with wildlife, to those of a community living with wildlife have always stood out to me. The hundreds and thousands of dollars’ people will pay to see a leopard, a lion, an elephant, often stands in stark comparison to the costs this same wildlife inflict on local communities.

I remember years ago taking guests from a high-end lodge for a night drive outside the park, on privately owned land. As we drove I heard dogs start barking frantically on a hillside, a homestead I knew kept many dogs for security. Soon enough shouting reached our ears as people went to chase away the offending animal. In this case, it was hyenas, looking to snatch themselves a cow dinner. The excitement of the guests when I explained to them what was going on, almost eclipsed, that of the farmers shouting. While he was shouting from fear for his livelihood, they were overjoyed at the chance of spotting a hyena. It rang loud in my head that night, there must be a way to bring these extremes closer together.

This disparity was bought home again recently at the camp. Around 10:30pm I heard a goat start shouting, not a normal cry but of one under attack. Sure enough, the shouts of a farmer soon followed, torches were seen bobbing around and the yelling of the goat stopped. Shortly after, the whooping call of a hyena was heard close by. I assumed it had been a hyena who had attacked the goat but hearing our herdsman, Nshama, recount the night the next morning I was proved wrong. Apparently, the guilty culprit was a leopard. It didn’t end up killing the goat, having been chased off in time. The next-door farmer and Nshama spent hours following it and chasing it away until it fled in to our forest at the lakeside. Apparently, it was limping badly with a wound on its front leg, perhaps a reason it went for the easy pickings of a goat.

Myself and the two volunteers in residence, were excited about the possibility of a leopard and with a skip in our step we headed to the forest. We didn’t think we would see a leopard but went to set up camera traps galore to try capture a picture. The days after we expectantly checked the traps but no leopard could be seen. How disappointed we were. Again, it bought home to me the huge contrast that remains. Here we are excited the leopard is around and disappointed that it has moved off whereas the farmers are disappointed that it is around and happy when it moves off. But it is a sentiment I fully understand. If your children’s school fees, your family’s food, medical bills all depend on your herd of cows or goats then even a single loss impacts your ability to care for your family. Understanding this is something many “armchair” conservationists don’t comprehend. Reacting with outrage over some tragic poisonings, spearing or shooting of wildlife by local communities is easy to do when your livelihood is not directly affected. Having compassion for others situations, putting yourself in others shoes and working on solutions to reduce this conflict are a lot more efficient actions to help the problem.

A leopard caught on camera trap in 2017. It had taken a goat and dragged it in to the forest to eat.

Reducing this conflict is something we at the camp are dedicated to. Through our business we incorporate activities within the community, bringing benefits seen through cash in hand. It is also a reason why we have founded a Community Based Organisation “Lake Mburo Communities”. LMC’s work, run by members of the community, will be focused on sustainable social and environmental activities which aim to reduce poverty levels and improve the environment for both human and wildlife communities. Watch this space to see how LMC progresses with its work!

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