Catching Up with AWF’s Resident Leopard Expert
Longtime AWF followers might remember Nakedi Maputla, the leopard researcher working out of South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The intrepid South African recently became our Congo landscape ecologist, where he is working to protect bonobos, forest elephants, and, yes, also leopards.
We caught up with him to see how he was faring in his new role:
Q: It must have been quite a culture shock going from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo…
A: Actually, the people here are Bantu, and I’m also Bantu, so there are a lot of similarities in mannerisms and community life. The major difference is going from the savanna to the forest. You have to be super-fit to operate in this environment—I must always carry isotonic drinks with me to avoid dehydration. My colleagues, especially Alain Lushimba and Phila Kasa Levo, have a lot of stamina and work really hard; they hardly break a sweat. It also takes about two to three days to travel between sites, so the planning has to be more detailed.
Q: In South Africa, you were often on your own. How has it been working with a team?
A: Everyone here has been very nice, and the team environment has been encouraging. They laugh at my French (while teaching me to say things properly, which is a fun way to learn), but I have been using hand gestures and bits of different languages—French, English, and the local dialect, Lingala—to communicate.
Q: Have you had a chance to see any bonobos since you’ve arrived?
A: Yes! They are cute. When we tracked them in the forest, they would run away atop the forest canopy… but if we stopped for a rest, they would come back to look for us. It was like they were teasing us!
Q: How do the ecosystem differences affect how you pursue conservation here vs. in South Africa?
A: Having worked in Kruger, I am able to take the things I learned and apply it here, without taking away from the wonderful work that has already been going on in the landscape. We will set up camera traps to conduct species inventories and abundances. We are looking into mapping elephant distribution—as I’m talking to you, we have guys in the field walking 1-km transects and counting elephant dung. And we are developing a five-year plan for ecosystem monitoring to identify key threats and find ways to address them.
I am very excited about the opportunities; I just have to make sure to be realistic about what we can accomplish.