To bait or not to bait: A comparison of camera-trapping methods for estimating leopard Panthera pardus density
Du Preez BD., Loveridge AJ., Macdonald DW.
Leopards have the largest natural distribution of felids, but have lost a third of their historical range, and their current CITES status is 'Near Threatened'. Leopards are a highly sought after trophy species in Africa, although their populations are not monitored in most areas. Zimbabwe sets the highest leopard quota in Africa, but actual offtake does not reflect this, and the number of successful hunts has steadily declined in recent years. Accurate data on leopard populations is urgently needed, particularly where they are harvested. Camera-trapping is a powerful tool for non-invasively researching populations of rare and elusive felids, allowing accurate calculation of population density, and monitoring trends. However, unbaited camera-trapping is plagued by low capture rates, affecting the accuracy of the resultant density calculations. In addition, dependent cubs are underrepresented in the data, precluding an accurate description of demographic structure.We compared baited and unbaited camera-trapping methods and resultant data quality from two survey areas within our study site. Baited camera-trapping significantly increased leopard capture rates, as well as recording dependent cubs, which the unbaited method failed to detect. In addition, the baited method was more cost effective. Using baits to increase capture rates of leopards is more efficient than the unbaited method, and has the potential to accurately survey unmonitored populations; including where their density is too low to determine accurately via other means. These data are required for management of leopard populations, especially where harvested, and may be applied to improve monitoring efforts of other big cat species. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.