A leopard sighting in the African bush is one of the most thrilling things that can happen to anyone with half an ounce of wildness in her soul. Seeing car tracks left off-road by some selfish sonofabitch is probably one of the worst.
We’d been watching for ten minutes when a small cub sprinted down the bark of the tree and crossed to mum. She greeted it with a hug (seriously, both front paws out to enfold the cub!) and then licked its head for good measure. The little one lay down next to her but she was off, stretching, strolling to the tree trunk and then gone in a flash.
The leopards were still there the next day. We watched mum hiss at a grey hornbill then chase it away; we watched the cub gnaw at the head of the kill, which had fallen out of the tree.
On the third day, they were gone. All we found at the site was a set of tyre tracks going over the sand embankment that lines the dry riverbed, right up to the leopard tree, and another set snaking back onto the road.
Whether he was the reason the leopards had disappeared, or whether their kill was eaten and it was time for them to move on anyway, we don’t know. What we do know is that apart from rules being flaunted and the act being selfish, there are environmental concerns too.
He could have caused irreparable damage, according to Gerhard Nortje, who is doing his PhD on Wildlife Management at Pretoria University. His thesis investigates how vehicle tracks affect the environment.
In an article in SA 4x4 magazine’s December 2012 issue, Nortje said a vehicle driving off-road causes damage up to one-metre wide on either side of the tyre tracks.
‘Think about it: what you see is two narrow tyre tracks but below the surface there is a 3.8 metre-wide swath of physically degraded soil,’ he said. The main damage, apparently, is not just from compaction – which prevents plant roots from penetrating and thus reduces the diversity and vitality of plants – but more specifically from vehicle vibrations.
If you think there’s not much difference between vehicle tracks and the compaction left by game paths, think again. Nortje says the natural compaction of a game path through the veld is limited to about 20 centimetres and is only as wide as the track itself.
A vehicle track, by contrast, causes damage one metre deep and almost four metres wide. Soil recovery after compaction by a vehicle indicates that recovery can take anywhere between five to 1000 years, depending on the soil type and climate.
Thanks a lot, you inconsiderate bastard; I hope it was worth it.
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