Leopard conservation, tourism and local communities in the Cederberg
van Schalkwyk, Irené
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The Cederberg is increasingly associated with wildlife and ecotourism. Long-established rural communities practising subsistence farming reside in the Cederberg, some on the very boundary of the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Land uses related to tourism and conservation are currently reframing the Cederberg as a leisure landscape; a development that is not always compatible with sustaining the livelihoods of local inhabitants. Humans often occupy spaces to create a ‘civilised’ place of belonging for themselves and their domestic animals, and may regard certain indigenous wildlife species (such as baboons and leopards) as intrusive vermin. Livestock-keeping communities in the Cederberg are affected in particular by leopard conservation efforts. Livestock (sheep and donkeys in particular) is important to these farmers but often in danger of becoming prey to wild predators. In the Cederberg, the endangered Cape Mountain Leopard moves freely between the protected and inhabited spaces and often comes into contact with livestock owned by local subsistence farmers. This dissertation is rooted in the emerging sub-discipline of ‘animal geographies’. It explores divergent views of the term ‘wilderness’ as well as the treatment of ‘wild’ animals within the areas occupied by local people. It focusses on the community involvement in conservation practices and human-wildlife conflict issues, exploring community responses to their changing context and especially current conservation practices of CapeNature and the Cape Leopard Trust (the provincial conservation authority and an NGO respectively). Interviews with local people about current and historical leopard encounters are drawn upon in the analysis. The study is concerned to understand how conservation is impacting on local communities, and their responses to these shifts. Results suggest that there is substantial gap in the relationship with the communities and conservation authorities, especially regarding leopard conservation and livestock preservation. The communities of Wupperthal continue to suffer significant losses due to leopard predation. As it is now illegal to trap or kill leopards, residents have few strategies to protect their livestock. While some communities have a better relationship with CapeNature regarding the tourism activities within their community and other conservation initiatives, their considerable frustration was evident. The study explores the complex land issues in the region, and suggests possibilities for improvement in the relationship between local subsistence farmers and conservation authorities.