Ok, I’ll write something then! When I first saw the leopard trapped in the cage, I didn’t believe my eyes. He looked calm and was just sitting there in the cage looking at me. I got so excited that I started running. If you asked me why I was running, I would politely ask you not to ask me difficult questions too early in the morning.
I got in the research vehicle, looked in to the mirror, and did what most people in my situation would do. I did a lot of things! After recollecting my composure, I started the engine and drove off to the lodge to call the vets from Skukuza.
In roughly two hours, Dr. Danny Govender (the veterinary scientist/doctor) and her assistant, Khosi - both from Game Capture Unit - arrived at the lodge. Danny looked at me and said with a smile, “Nakedi, don’t you know that people shouldn’t work on Sundays?” I smiled sheepishly, and then scratched my head.
And so we all went to the capture site. Getting to the trap, it was quickly established that the leopard was a big male. He was unsettled by the number of people who all wanted to witness his fate.
However, for a leopard, he seemed a bit calm; normally he would slam against the sides of the cage; sometimes resulting in some nasty injuries. The reason for his relative calmness was that when we baited the cages, we also placed five pills called Dormicum® in the meat. Dormicum has sedative properties; furthermore it is known to have skeletal muscle relaxant. It is for this reason that the leopard appeared to be too calm in leopard standards even though he was growling and being a leopard.
Personal observation: This obviously didn’t work with the lions, last week!
Danny expertly immobilized the trapped leopard by using the Dan Inject rifle aimed to the neck region. Within a few minutes it was lights out! We then lowered the leopard to the ground and moved him to a suitable area for the collaring.
We took measurements including weight, body length, tail length, leg lengths (hind and fore) shoulder height, sizes of feet, canine sizes, and length of ears. We also took blood samples for disease screening; for example, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus [FIV - the cat equivalent for the HIV; different to humans, cats have evolved with this disease for millions of years] and other diseases, hair samples for DNA analyses. The general condition of the animal was also assessed. He is an old guy alright, with two broken canines and missing one claw.
After all the necessary information had been gathered, we fitted him with the collar. Danny then injected the reverse drug to wake him up.
We all then ran to the safety of the cars because leopards are known to attack anything that moves when they wake up. None of us wanted to be living proofs!
After a while he seemed to be waking up and then everyone decided they were leaving. Matthew Harding (Head Guide) decided to wait with me for a while. After everyone had left the leopard went back to sleep right in front of us. It turns out a combination of Dormicum and other drugs had some serious effects on the leopard.
Matthew and I waited for about two hours during which the leopard attempted in vain to get his legs under his body to start walking. Then Matthew had to leave. By that time it was approaching dusk. I decided to stay and guard the leopard until he was fully recovered.
Reasons for guarding the leopard:
1. With the high lion and hyena densities in the park the leopard was in grave danger
My game plan: Drive around the sleeping leopard, thereby shielding him from the prospective assailant;
2. A rival leopard could have taken advantage of the situation if he came across the drugged leopard (proving the point: if you take drugs, your counterpart gains a thousand strides on you; whatever that means)
My game plan: Same as above; and
3. A part of me hoped that if I were the first thing he saw upon waking up… we would develop an irreversible bold, a telepathic connection that would keep us going for the next two years
My game plan: stare in to his eyes and hope he does the same for me.
In the end I ended up spending the night guarding the sleeping leopard. He woke up early the following morning and gave me the look I was hoping for. He then sleekly disappeared behind the bushes.
I gave a big sigh of relief and drove off to the lodge…
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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