Camera traps installed in the penguin colony around Boulders, Simon’s Town, have revealed that recent penguin deaths were caused by a caracal, the largest remaining natural predator on the peninsula.
The penguins were killed over two weeks during four separate events in the area south of Links Crescent, close to Froggy Pond.
Initial evidence in the investigations by Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) and the City of Cape Town suggested the presence of one or more caracals in the area. So the City installed camera traps to check, and when the cameras were triggered, a large caracal was photographed.
After closing off part of the shoreline, a caracal was trapped on Friday July 8, at 7pm, at the south end of Froggy Pond. Penguins in separate cages were used as live lures.
The animal was tranquilised in the cage and examined by a veterinarian. It was found to be a healthy adult female not currently looking after offspring.
The caracal was fitted with a tracking collar and, said Johan van der Merwe, the City’s mayoral committee member for energy, environmental and spatial planning, was transported back to her original roaming territory and resleased. It appears to have settled down and its movements will be monitored.
Mr Van der Merwe said the penguins had also been released and were unharmed, showing no signs of distress.
Predation by an indigenous animal is a natural part of the ecosystem and the prey is not favoured above the predator, said Mr van der Merwe. However, when a particular predator started changing normal predation behaviour and killed more than what was required for feeding, that was a cause for concern, especially if the prey killed is the endangered African penguin.
“Concurrently, the City will deploy other passive mitigation measures to discourage the return of the caracal to the Burghers Walk to Froggy Pond area. We will continue with ongoing monitoring in the area by means of camera traps and foot patrols and urge members of the public not to tamper with any of the equipment installed in the area, which is intended to deter the caracal.
“Lastly, it must be mentioned that while monitoring the camera traps, officials have noticed that dog walkers are walking their dogs off the leash. We would like to remind all dog walkers in the area to please keep their dogs on a leash.”
Caracals are themselves the subject of a study, started by an American wildlife biologist Laurel Serieys.
The Urban Caracal Project, established in 2014 in Cape Town, was based on on a successful research and bobcat conservation project in Los Angeles, California. The study is a tool to understand how urbanisation may be threatening wildlife across South Africa and other parts of the world similarly threatened by urbanisation.
The project is a partnership between UCT, the Cape Leopard Trust, Universities of California (Santa Cruz and Los Angeles), South Africa National Parks, the City of Cape Town and private landowners in Cape Town.
Among other things of the project found that caracals regularly cross major roads, including freeways such as the M3, with vehicle collision being an important source of mortality, and of those hit by cars, 90 percent are young males.
Caracals are also exposed to commonly used rat poisons, including the most toxic ones commercially available, likely as a result of consuming rodents that are targeted by the poisons in urban areas.
The project team ask that all road kill caracals in the peninsula be sent to Dr Serieys on firstname.lastname@example.org or SMS 079 837 8814.
Visit www.urbanCaracal.org for more information.