Cape Town - Night patrols have been increased and camera traps have been set up to monitor remote locations at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay after 33 endangered African penguins were killed by a leopard earlier this month.
CapeNature, which has managed the colony since 2014, said it was not unusual for leopards to kill penguins, but it was cause for concern as the Stony Point population was one of the largest breeding colonies in the world.
“Even though leopards are large predators they are just like a house cat that likes to play,” said CapeNature spokesman Justin Lawrence.
He said if the prey was easy to catch like the penguins, they would play and kill them, but only feed on two or three.
“In this case the leopard fed on two birds,” Lawrence said.
CapeNature is also using scent deterrents, including lion scat and pepper spray, to discourage the leopard from returning to the site.
Lawrence said they sourced the scat from a sanctuary at Stanford.
He said the pepper spray and the scat were used in different locations.
“It has been successful to keep caracal away and so far the leopard has not returned either.”
Dog patrols were also being used.
CapeNature said the leopard had been spotted near the colony on the day when it killed the 33 birds and left one injured.
A surviving chick and five penguin eggs were also found at empty nest sites in the area.
“The injured penguin, chick and eggs, were sent to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) for rehabilitation, rearing and incubation. Sanccob confirmed the wounds on the birds were consistent with those caused by a leopard.”
Roxanne Abrahams, spokeswoman for Sanccob, said the chick had not been injured and would be released as soon as it was old enough.
“The older penguin had puncture wounds to its neck and possible spinal injuries so is in our ICU where it is being monitored. It has shown signs of improvement but is not out of the woods,” she said.
Stony Point, which was established in 1982, is home to over 2 388 breeding pairs.
Lawrence said the colony had continued to house breeding pairs of African penguin, despite a period between the 1980s and 1990s when more than 100 birds were preyed on by a leopard.
He added that the colony had been showing a measurable increase in breeding pairs, in comparison to declining populations on most island colonies. There were, however, more common threats, such as a risk of predation from land and water.