Travel

TAKE A LOOK | Camera traps captured rare pics of leopards, a hippo, and chicks in Cape Overberg

Business Insider SA
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
  • A massive camera trap project in the Cape Overberg has captured photographs of rare and surprising animals.
  • Among them are 31 different leopards, a hippo, Cape dune molerat, fallow deer, an aardwolf, caracals, and 15 bird species, including several young chicks.
  • The operation, run by the Cape Leopard Trust, spanned 2,400 square kilometres and captured more than 230,000 photographs.
  • Using machine learning software, the Cape Leopard Trust automatically sifted through these and identified several species.
  • Here are some highlights captured by 86 camera traps spread out across the Cape Overberg over five months.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

A massive camera trap operation in the Cape Overberg region run by the Cape Leopard Trust has delivered some surprising results - including dozens of sightings of the elusive leopards known to traverse the area.

The Cape Leopard Trust strategically placed 86 camera traps on the vast 2,400 square metre tract of land between De Hoop and Botvlei and focused primarily on hiking and mountain bike trails on private nature reserves, national parks, vineyards, and orchards.

Between August 2021 and January 2022, the cameras captured 230,533 photographs amounting to nearly 200GB of data.

Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust

Sorting through these was made easier with assistance from machine learning software called WildID. This online software detects and identifies 70 different species of South African wildlife, as well as vehicles, humans, and blank photographs. It then isolates the pictures that may be of interest - massively expediting an otherwise exhausting task of manual sorting.

Of the 230,533 photographs taken during the study, 40% were duds. But WildID detected something of interest in 166,221, including 61 species. The software then automatically labelled each of these for easy viewing by the Cape Leopard Trust team.

Among them are several native animals, and some reintroduced into the area. They also spotted animals they weren't expecting to see, like a hippo, a Cape dune molerat, fallow deer, and a lone vervet monkey, suspected of being an escaped pet.

Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust

The cameras also captured lots of birds, which the Cape Leopard trust says was pleasantly surprising.

"Although birds regularly show up on our camera traps in regions like the Cederberg, Boland, Piketberg, and Little Karoo, we were quite surprised by the number and variety of different birds recorded in the Overberg," the Cape Leopard Trust said.

Among the birds were at least 15 different species, many of which had young - the cameras captured chicks of blue cranes, spur-winged geese, ostriches, and Denham's bustard.

Leopards - the primary focus of the operation - also appeared in surprising numbers, some with juveniles, too. Fifty of the 86 camera traps captured a total of 526 leopard photographs.

Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust

Using pattern recognition software and manual confirmation, the trust has identified at least 24 different adult leopards and seven juveniles believed to be from four different litters. Together with a student from the University of Cape Town, they are now working on estimating just how many previously elusive leopards are patrolling the greater Overberg region.

Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust
Image: Cape Leopard Trust

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