I managed to capture another leopard last Wednesday, December 10th. On that morning I went out with the tracking team including Eckson Ndlovu, Johnson Mhlanga, Sipps Maswanganyi, and Glass Marimane. When we got to the first trap Eckson, Johnson and yours truly stepped out of the vehicle to go and check if the trap had caught anything.
We walked for less than ten steps and suddenly Eckson jumped up in front of me with his hands raised and pointing in the direction of the trap “Xhi khomile!” meaning “it caught!”
We stopped walking and looked at the cage that was roughly 30 metres away from us and saw an extremely beautiful male leopard pacing to and fro in the cage. There would be no running for me this time, I was not alone. Instead I kept my cool and pretended that I had done it a thousand times before. That was of course a lie because inside my heart was racing like an excited hamster and the little voice in my head was singing all sorts of happy songs.
Everybody around me was extremely excited. I could smell their energy in the air, it was beautiful. Imagine five grown men in a car, all of them smiling. That’s the perfect world I one day want to live in.
I then got hold of the vets to come and help us out. They said they would arrive in two hours. We then went back to do some tracking and check the other cages.
We managed to track the collared leopard and headed back to the lodge to find Dr Peter Buss waiting for us. We got all the equipment ready and headed for the trapped leopard. Getting there I realised that it was one of the leopards that I had captured on camera before. A big young male probably four or five years old with a pink nose still. He looked perfect and he finished all the meat in the cage. Surprisingly he was more leopard than the collared one.
Dormicum did not have a big effect on him. He looked like he was ready to bite someone’s head off. Peter, Jacques (Camera man) and I went up to the cage and asked every one to stay behind the bushes, out of sight. I had to create a diversion by walking past the leopard while Peter would dart him from the blind side. That didn’t take long and in a few minutes he was out.
When I walked past the leopard in the cage I saw something that made my heart sink with great sadness. It was like a dark cloud coming over me. The leopard had a big wound on the neck. The wound went all around and there was a wire deep inside the neck.
It was a snare; the ugly head of snaring is haunting me. “Not again,” I thought. After we had lowered the leopard to the ground we all came to see how brutal snares are. According to Peter, had we not caught this animal in three to four weeks he would be dead. That’s because the snare would keep tightening until it got to the windpipe and that would deal the leopard a fatal blow. Finding the snare wound also meant another thing… there would be no collaring!
Sad as I was I drew comfort in the thought that we saved a leopard’s life that day.
After everyone had left I stayed with the leopard until he woke up. Due to Dormicum in the meat he slept for the whole day. The sun was blazing that day. I sat there with him and when he woke up I was there. He snarled at me and tried to get up but he failed and fell asleep again. When he woke up for the second time I was still there. He snarled again and gave a warning growl and tried to run away. He ended up at the next shade and passed out again.
Voices in my head:
1. This is clearly not a morning leopard;
2. The telepathic connection exercise will not work;
3. He wants to eat you Nakedi, do you want to go pet him?*
4. Or maybe play the game, “Poke the sleeping leopard and run”*;
5. He looks like he feels offended; and most importantly
6. What are you going to do about Mozambique
When he eventually woke up he snarled and growled one more time. I said: “Okay, Okay, grumpy! You’ve made your point,” He went up the mountain and went in to a cave. That is when I headed back to the lodge holding the last thought.
*Please note that of course I am not serious about these two points. A leopard is one of the most dangerous animals in the wild. It is equipped with all the equipment and technique to kill a fully grown man within seconds…. So please give respect where it is due!
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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