After the leopard scare, Clement and I waited to see what would happen. Within a few minutes hyenas surrounded the area of the cage and in the meantime we thought they scared the leopard off. After waiting for a while we decided to go back in and re-set the cage.
That went well, but to tie the bait back on to the trigger meant I had to stick my upper body into the cage with all those maggots as the meat was starting to putrefy. I did that with ease and came out reeking of impala meat.
The following day at the same trap, we found that the same thing had happened again. This time the meat was almost completely covered with maggots. As I didn’t want to mess up the uniform like I did the previous day, I took off my shirt, went up the tree and stuck my upper body in the cage to fix the bait, maggots and all.
I was disappointed because this meant we missed this animal twice in a row. After fixing the cage we visited the other cages with no luck until….on the last cage we saw from a distance that it was closed.
We checked with the binoculars and saw that we had captured a leopard! We were so excited that we gave each other high fives and went back to call the Dr. Peter Buss from Game Capture unit. When he arrived, we had to go and get the leopard from the tree. That is such a scary moment and it gets me every time.
Because the leopard was high in the tree I had to take the ladder up to the tree while everybody hid behind the bushes. Just between us I was trembling from my head to my toes during that trip and it felt like forever to complete.
During that time the leopard was looking at me with scorching eyes. He was extremely angry. What scared me the most was that he seemed to know where the door was…
My thoughts during that long trip, besides reflecting on my short life:
I put the ladder under the tree and made sure that it was firm in between those scary growls. Peter then came along with the dart gun to anaesthetise the leopard. During that time I tried to divert the leopard’s attention by waving my arms on the ground while Peter successfully injected the leopard on the neck region.
After a short while he was out. We brought him down and it was quickly established that he was a post-prime male. This made me a bit sad, because that means he is an old guy. Babu’s wise words started echoing in my head. With each capture it becomes more and more apparent that the leopards we capture are either old, or injured. It seems Babu is right on this one.
We made the decision to fit a tracking collar on him. This could provide valuable data that indicates how leopards change their behaviour as they age. For instance, what happens when they get thrown out of their territories by younger more powerful counterparts?
Just like the previous two collared leopards, I sat with him after we were done to make sure he was okay.
Joining AWF in 2007, Nakedi is the latest addition to AWF's team of species researchers in Africa. Working in the Limpopo region, where he's from, Nakedi's studying the great cats to shape conservation strategies that will benefit communities he's known all his life. Looking at Nakedi's focus areas as a zoologist – Cytogenetics, Molecular Biology, and Geometric Morphometrics – it's easy to see he is serious about conservation. Leopards as a species especially interested him because they are both powerful and elusive – making it a challenge to study and protect them.
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