The sustainability of leopard panthera pardus sport hunting in Niassa Reserve, Mozambique.
Leopard Panthera pardus are an economically valuable asset and when used in sustainable consumptive use programs can provide tangible benefits to communities to improve human livelihoods and the conservation of the species. Sport hunting is increasingly proposed as a tool to generate funds to support the conservation of leopard and other large carnivores. However, to assess the value of sport hunting as a conservation tool it is critical to understand its economic impact and ensure that the off-takes are sustainable. In this study I assessed the conservation status of leopard and the ecological sustainability of legal and illegal off-take in Niassa National Reserve (NNR) the largest protected area, 42,000 km2, in Mozambique, which is inhabited by 35,000 people. I also investigated whether the revenues from leopard sport hunting off-set the costs of depredation on livestock in local communities and individual benefits from poaching by local hunters. To perform this study, I interviewed hunting operators and villagers, collected camera trapping data, and analyzed long-term leopard sport hunting data. Leopard had high value for sport hunters, however, the economic benefits from the legal hunting did not off-set the costs from livestock depredation and did not compete with benefits from the illegal hunting which accrued to individuals at the household level. Leopard population densities in Niassa Reserve were comparable with the study sites in central and southern Africa. The numbers of leopard legally hunted in NNR appear to be ecologically sustainable, however a high percentage of the leopard taken as trophies were under the recommended age of seven years. The illegal off-take was unsustainable and resulting in high turnover and combined with the operators’ off-take is likely to be negatively affecting leopard populations. For the future ecological and economic sustainability of leopard quotas, I recommend improvements in the distribution of economic benefits and creating economic incentives to encourage villagers not to engage in the illegal hunting and quantification and inclusion of the illegal off-take in the annual quotas. My study also indicates the need to zone community and wildlife areas in NNR to reduce the anthropogenic effects on leopard and other carnivore populations.
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