Human–wildlife conflict, unequal knowledge and the failure to conserve the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi

Helle V. Goldman, Norwegian Polar Institute, & Martin T. Walsh, University of Cambridge, Presented at the Felid Biology and Conservation Conference, University of Oxford, 17-20 September 2007

1. The Zanzibar leopard and witchcraft
Panthera pardus adersi is (or was) a small and small-spotted subspecies of leopard endemic to the island of Unguja in the Zanzibar archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania. It is thought to have been evolving in isolation from its continental African relatives since at least the end of the last Ice Age, when Unguja was cut off from the East African mainland by rising sea levels. Rapid human population growth and the expansion of farming in the mid-20th century destroyed leopard habitat and decimated their natural prey, bringing them increasingly into conflict with people. Villagers explained the growing number of attacks on their children and livestock by theorizing that the leopards responsbile were magically controlled by witches and sent by them to do harm. This theory, which is elaborated in many ways, still dominates indigenous knowledge about the Zanzibar leopard.

Leopards reported killed in official records, 1990-1995 1 2 3 4
Chaani/ Mkwajuni Kiwengwa/ Pangeni/ Mchangani

3. The rise and fall of Zanzibar leopard conservation
In 1995, stories of the Zanzibar leopard’s continued survival were conveyed to the chairman of the IUCN’s Cat Specialist Group. In 1996, a conservation and development project in Zanzibar asked us to investigate indigenous knowledge and practice relating to the leopard. Local accounts of leopard keeping were so compelling that a number of wildlife researchers had accepted them at face value. We found that there was no evidence for leopard domestication, though there did appear to be an extant wild population. However, in a follow-up survey, a South African wildlife consultant and Cat SG member found no solid evidence for the leopard’s survival, and advised that it was too late to save this felid, even if a few remained. International interest in the conservation of the Zanzibar leopard fizzled out abruptly.





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2. Campaigns to exterminate the leopard
In the post-war period, villagers in different parts of the island acted on this theory by making several determined attempts to exterminate leopards and/or punish the witches believed to own them. After the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964, an island-wide leopard-eradication and witch-finding campaign was organized with government support, and state-subsidized leopard hunting continued into the 1990s as part of national efforts to control animals classified as “vermin”. Although some international authorities had presumed the Zanzibar leopard extinct since the early 1970s, the last reported leopard bagged by National Hunters was in 1995. Despite this history of trapping and shooting only six museum specimens are known, and P. p. adersi has never been studied in captivity or in the wild.
Zanzibar Town


Uroa Ufufuma Forest/ Jendele/ Hanyegwamchana Bungi- Cheju kerenge Pete

4. Conflicting knowledge, inadequate practice?
Chwaka Ukongoroni Charawe Jozani Kitogani Muungoni Mtule

Plantations, permanent cultivation Thicket, shifting cultivation Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park

Jambiani Muyuni/ Kizimkazi/ Makunduchi

Disregarding presumptions of the leopard’s extinction, rural Zanzibaris continue to allege its presence and government officials have discussed schemes for the display of domesticated leopards. This case raises awkward questions about the effectiveness of orthodox conservation initiatives when human–wildlife conflict is compounded by conflicting scientific and indigenous knowledge about endangered animals. Could the Zanzibar leopard have been saved if local and international authorities had acted together promptly in the 1990s? Should the leopard have been presumed extirpated on the basis of a single survey concentrated in a small area? When should local knowledge be discounted and when should it be given credence? To what lengths should we go to rescue endemics where they are vehemently loathed? When their existence is disputed?

1919 Leopard given legal protection by colonial govt

1939-43 District Commissioner reports 23 leopards killed, despite law

1950 Following leopard attacks, govt allows killing problem leopards with special permission

1971 Smithers presumes Zanzibar leopards extirpated

1985–95 National Hunters report bagging more than 100 leopards, 13 leopards reported killed in 1993, 13 in 1994, 1 in 1995

1997 External consultant finds no solid evidence of leopards during 3-week survey

1998–2007 No further investigation of leopards, continued reports of sightings & attacks on livestock

1932 Subspecies P. p. adersi formally described by Pocock

1940s–60s Various illegal village-based initiatives target leopards & “leopard keepers”

Late 1960s–early 1970s With govt support, Kitanzi leads national campaign to persecute “leopard keepers” and leopards, unknown number of leopards killed

1979 Halsted, US Consul in Zanzibar, reports seeing leopard skins in shoe factory during his tenure in 1975–77, was told that the authorities were killing 3–4 annually

1996 Renewed legal protection of leopards in Zanzibar; Jozani–Chwaka Bay Conservation Project survey of Zanzibaris’ beliefs about leopards suggests extant population; Nowell & Jackson presume Zanzibar leopards extirpated

References and further reading
Goldman H.V. & Walsh M.T. 1997. A leopard in jeopardy: an anthropological survey of perceptions and practices threatening the survival of the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi). Zanzibar Forestry Technical Paper 63. Zanzibar: Commission for Natural Resources. Goldman H.V. & Walsh M.T. 2002. Is the Zanzibar leopard (Panthera pardus adersi) extinct? Journal of East African Natural History 91, 15–25.

Halsted D.C. 1979. Birds and larger mammals of Zanzibar. East African Natural History Society Bulletin March/April, 41–45. Nowell K. & Jackson P. (eds.) 1996. Wild cats. Gland: IUCN. Pocock R.I. 1932. The leopards of Africa. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 1932, 543–591. Smithers R.H.N. 1971. Family Felidae. In J. Meesters & H.W. Setzer (eds.) The mammals of Africa: an identification manual. Pp. 1–10. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press. Stuart C. & Stuart T. 1997. A preliminary faunal survey of south-eastern Unguja

with special emphasis on the leopard Panthera pardus adersi. Loxton: African–Arabian Wildlife Research Centre. Walsh M.T. & Goldman H.V. 2003. The Zanzibar leopard: between science and cryptozoology. Nature East Africa 33, 14–16. Walsh M.T. & Goldman H.V. In press. Killing the king: the demonization and extermination of the Zanzibar leopard. In E. Dounias et al. (eds.) Le symbolisme des animaux: l’animal clef-de-voûte dans la tradition orale et les interactions homme–nature. Pp. 1033–1056. Paris: IRD.

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