So I started baiting the cages on Tuesday January 27rd. With the loss of the research leopard due to a porcupine incident, I needed to fit another leopard with the tracking collar.
It so happened that at that time I had a visitor to the leopard project. We went out on that morning and while we were baiting, it became boring for everyone, Clement, Nicky and Wayne (which is completely understandable!) so I suggested everybody head back to the lodge while I continued with the work.
I managed to bait all the cages. After baiting the last cage, I left a little bit of meat outside just to see if a leopard patrolling the area would show some interest.
The following day Clement (tracker) and I went to check if there was anything caught in the cages. We went through the first three cages with no luck, but when we got to the last cage it was closed and the bits that I had left outside were gone.
I then got off the car and started towards the cage. Upon approaching the closed cage I realised something had been tagging on the meat. I then told Clement what I thought. He didn’t believe me, so we started debating. I would say something and then Clement would counter it.
During the debate, while it was Clement’s turn to state his thoughts, I heard Grrr! I quickly stopped Clement and said with a whisper, “listen.” There was Grrrr again. The growls came from within ten meters of us, but we couldn’t say from where. I whispered, again “this must be a leopard.” Clement said, “yes, and it is eating the bits that you left outside.” Without saying a word, we each started walking towards the car.
We didn’t take more than five steps when we heard a much louder GRRRR! We immediately stopped, I felt my thigh muscles tighten…it was the world famous “fight or flight” moment. Obviously my legs were prepared to run as all the blood was rushing there, but then I remembered one of the most famous bush commandments: THOU SHALT NOT RUN. Besides, I doubt if I would have been able to outrun Clement, he looks more athletic than me. After we stopped, there was another GRRRR! Somehow this prompted us to hold hands. That was a scary moment as we both had no clue from which direction the assault would come from.
The thing was so close that when it growled it sounded like we were surrounded. How was holding hands going to help us? After the three second halt, we cautiously and slowly - without looking back - made our way to the vehicle. Of course the speed with which the vehicle was approached increased with the shortening of the distance. I don’t remember when we let go of each other’s hands, but after we sat down in the vehicle we both burst out laughing. I could hear my heart pounding and felt the sweat streaming from my forehead. We were relieved to be in the safety of the vehicle.
Nakedi joined AWF in 2007, working in the Limpopo region, where he's from. Nakedi's initial work was focused on studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies to benefit communities he's known all his life. In 2014, Nakedi moved on from the Limpopo region, becoming AWF’s Congo landscape ecologist.
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