Happy new year kind people and thank you all for the support in 2019! I know it has been a while since my last camp fire story. My B-Tech Nature Conservation studies have kept me very busy for most of last year. All to hopefully become Section Ranger one day!
Linda shared a story with you about the leopard in Berg en Dal last year. And thinking about it the other day brought to memory an interesting and quite dangerous situation we had at Lower Sabie many years back. I had just started at Olifants trail and had moved from Lower Sabie to the Letaba staff village. I came down south to pick up Ava and Aiden.
When I pulled into Lower Sabie, I bumped into the Head Guide Irving who was in a flat spin. He was out of breath and really shaken up telling me there is a leopard in the camp. It was an extremely hot day and the general workers were clearing dry bush behind the safari tents. Apparently the leopard was first sighted by a guest and then one of the general workers in that area. It was just after midday and I said to Irving I’ll help out but I don’t have uniform with me. I really was not expecting to now run after a leopard that day.
The Section Ranger showed up and somewhat anxious handed me a R1 semi auto rifle. He asked me to assist them with the leopard in camp. I again reiterated I didn’t have uniform and he said he was desperate to get this leopard out the camp before the guests started returning to their tents.
So after I took the rifle and immediately making a game plan, we set off after the cat. What we wanted to do was slowly with not too much pressure make the cat move towards the gate and hopefully it would make a clean exit. As always, Murphy is there to make sure such plans and especially plans with wild animals, go pear shaped. And so it did… The cat went in every direction except towards the gate.
New plan. We decided then to set a fire and control it to stop the cat moving behind us again. A risky move but we had the general workers there to ensure the fire did not get out of control. A very interesting and I must say intimidating moment occurred. With a fire behind me and burning strong, the bush in front of me suddenly exploded with intense growling, snarling and spitting.
I could see nothing of the cat. But I stood there with the rifle shouldered, aiming at this snarling bush, shouting at this leopard to come or go. But it had to make a decision now! I could feel the heat behind me on my legs and neck as the fire was fast approaching from behind. Then suddenly the bush went quiet. The leopard slipped away as suddenly as it had started its growling.
We moved cautiously around the bush looking for tracks as the general workers quickly beat the fire where I was standing. I must say, I really missed my thick jacket. Not just for the possible mauling but also some heat protection from the fire. My tekkies were also not equipped for this and got a bit melted on my heels. And it felt like my shirt was melted into my back. Luckily I had no burns or teeth marks on me ; )
Now you must know we all where trying our best to get this leopard out alive but it was fast becoming a very dangerous situation. Especially now that she started showing intense aggression towards us and refused to move towards the gate. I called everyone back to adapt our plan a bit and allow the cat to calm down. And to be honest to let my own adrenaline levels normalize too.
I suggested that we contact the state vets in Skukuza to assist and hold on till it gets dark. This way the cat would calm down and we could set up the trap cage. Hopefully we could trap and relocate her out of the camp alive and none of us would get scratched up in the process. The state vets agreed and sent a veterinary technician with a trap cage. Schalk the vet tech picked up some nice fresh bait on the way.
While we were waiting for him to arrive, we went to all the tents to warn the guests not to walk around and to be careful. The expressions we received were hysterical from “Whaaaat!? A leopard inside the camp” to “Huh?” And me and Irving tried our best to explain that we working hard on getting the leopard safely removed from the camp.
The guests however tried our patience. Some would say “But I need something from my car” and “How do we get to the restaurant now?” So we tried our best to be calm and patient and explained to them: “You can climb into your car now while we here and drive to the restaurant.” While we were there talking to other guests, one gentleman walked to his car and gave a shout… “ there’s the leopard!” Both me and Irving immediately moved in that direction. Our rifles up. Thankfully the guest stood still. I instructed him to get back to his tent now!!! Which he sheepishly did.
When Schalk arrived after dark, he phoned that he was at the gate and told us he has something yummy for the cat. We all met him at the gate to help him set up the cage. We placed the cage close to the gate by the fence. With the door facing the fence and a clear strip along the fence. We all hoped the cat would walk along the fence line eventually and would smell the bait and move into the cage. We had no idea how long this would take and I made peace with the fact it could be a long night.
While Schalk was in the cage setting up the bait and adjusting the cage trap, I stood behind and scanned the fence line with my torch. As I shone along the fence I spotted the spotted cat. It was casually walking along the fence and sniffing the air.
I whispered under my breath.. “ummm Schalk, I don’t want to alarm you, but if you don’t hurry, you going to be the bait and not that yummy piece of impala!” He immediately said “Oooh! Ok I’m almost done”. The leopard stood about 50 meters from me with a curious look at us. I wondered… could this be the same cat that so viciously refused to move to the gate? Here she was on her own will, with no aggression at all just staring at us and wondering what we were up to.
When Schalk was done we all slowly and quietly moved to the gate and stood there on the road. I don’t think I had a chance to finish my cigarette when we heard the cage door slam shut. Bakgat! That worked well! We gave the leopard some time for her to fill her belly and get some of the sleeping pills in her.
Schalk then sneaked in on his own with the pole syringe to tranquillize the cat. We heard some growling and snarling and he came back grinning. We gave it a few more minutes for her to fall asleep and we all then went in to carry the cage and her out. Taking her out the cage carefully so we could examine her, we found she was a beautiful healthy female leopard in her prime. Schalk thought she was in oestrous and possibly tried to escape a male interest. May be she somehow got cornered by the gate and fled into the camp.
I looked at Schalk. I really hoped he would ensure me the male did not follow into the camp. A male leopard in camp is another ball game completely. Luckily the male did not and was seen on the outside close to sunset dam. Schalk took the female and released her on the way to Skukuza. She was not lactating so there were no cubs to worry about. Hopefully she would meet a nice handsome male leopard and they could have their happy ending while we enjoyed ours.
I hope to see you around the fire again soon!