Vergelegen spots Cape Leopards

Cape Leopard at Vergelegen, Somerset West

Vergelegen, the historic wine farm in Somerset West outside Cape Town, is well known for sightings of top vintages – but excitement peaked last week when a rare adult male Cape leopard, two honey badgers and a caracal were recorded on the estate.

The animals were captured on camera as part of Cape Town’s Leopard Project, a field study on leopard populations within the City of Cape Town.

The leopard study stretches from the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve to the Helderberg Nature Reserve and includes all city-owned land as well as private land, explained Hayley-May Wittridge, Manager: Kogelberg and Harmony Flats nature reserves of the City of Cape Town, Biodiversity Management. 

Vergelegen Estate’s managing director, Don Tooth, pledged his support and granted permission for researchers to set up monitoring stations on the property. In addition, the estate purchased its own camera traps to increase the potential monitoring sites available to conduct research. 

Four fixed cameras were installed on the farm in early October at altitudes ranging from 80 to 473 metres above sea level. The cameras have a motion sensor that activates the cameras, which operate using a flash at night.

“We had heard anecdotal evidence that there were leopard on the farm, but this is the first time we have been able to confirm nocturnal sightings on camera, and we are delighted,” said Tooth. “Vergelegen already has a diverse animal population that includes numerous antelope species, snake weasels, silver foxes and spotted genet, and we now have images to confirm the presence of leopard, honey badgers and caracal.”

“The leopard fills the role of the apex predator in the Western Cape ecosystem,” said Wittridge, “and acts as an ‘umbrella species’ which will effectively help in the conservation of smaller, lower profile predators and other species which live and make up the leopards’ home range. It is fantastic to know that these animals are still found within the Helderberg basin and are utilising the areas frequently. 

“Evidence of species such as leopard, honey badgers and caracal on the Vergelegen estate is something to be proud of. In an urban environment, with development and social pressures resulting in the loss of habitat and species, there are few places that are home to a full spectrum of species. Apex predators are usually the first to disappear.”

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