Who bites the bullet first? The susceptibility of leopards Panthera pardus to trophy hunting.
Braczkowski AR., Balme GA., Dickman A., Macdonald DW., Fattebert J., Dickerson T., Johnson P., Hunter L.
Reliable data is fundamentally important for managing large carnivore populations, and vital for informing hunting quota levels if those populations are subject to trophy hunting. Camera-trapping and spoor counts can provide reliable population estimates for many carnivores, but governments typically lack the resources to implement such surveys over the spatial scales required to inform robust quota setting. It may therefore be prudent to shift focus away from estimating population size and instead focus on monitoring population trend. In this paper we assess the susceptibility of African leopards Panthera pardus to trophy hunting. This has management ramifications, particularly if the use of harvest composition is to be explored as a metric of population trend. We explore the susceptibility of different leopard age and sex cohorts to trophy hunting; first by examining their intrinsic susceptibility to encountering trophy hunters using camera-traps as surrogates, and second by assessing their extrinsic susceptibility using photographic questionnaire surveys to determine their attractiveness to hunters. We show that adult male and female leopards share similar incident rates to encountering hunters but adult males are the most susceptible to hunting due to hunter preference for large trophies. In contrast, sub-adult leopards rarely encounter hunters and are the least attractive trophies. We suggest that our findings be used as a foundation for the exploration of a harvest composition scheme in the Kwazulu-Natal and Limpopo provinces where post mortem information is collected from hunted leopards and submitted to the local provincial authorities.