30 minutes after baiting the leopard traps, and having been reassured that they would be safe from lions, we got a call from Matthew Harding (Head guide). Steve Faulconbridge (Conservation officer) had seen two lionesses get in to the last cage and get trapped!
I didn’t believe what I heard. How can two lionesses - each of which is probably double the size of a fully grown adult male leopard - fit in that cage? “Someone is playing a prank on me,” I thought. Two people were looking at me with the look: “Nakedi, what have you done?” Then I knew it was real.
My thoughts at the time:
• Scream at the top of my voice and ask God to end my life.
• How do I get a lioness out of a cage?
• They are two lionesses, Nakedi; not one.
• Why me?
• Run away and never return.
• I miss home.
James Suter, one of the guides, came in to the picture and said he was on duty and was keen to help.
Next bunch of thoughts:
• Wait a minute, I’ve seen JV work with two male tigers on television before; I can relax a little.
• Go and get JV and Andy, they are rugged, they’ll enjoy this right?
And so together with James and Francois we (JV, Andy and I) headed back to the trap site. When we got there, the tree was shaking vigorously.
And then the lions heard us, “(GRRRRRRRR x 2)1.”
We moved closer to the cage and then they saw us “(GRRRRRRRR x 2)1000000.” I could feel the air around us vibrating with the vibrations being earthed through my feet. Better yet, as Bill Altimari says: “your breastbone vibrates like a tuning fork,”
Hell hath no fury like two lionesses scorned!
We thought of releasing the animals by quickly lifting the cage door and driving off quickly. James would sit in the back with his rifle aimed at the lionesses should they come out and do what they do best while JV and Andy would attempt to lift the cage door. Francois ran the camera in the safety of the other car. I had to be on the wheel - AWF’s leopard research vehicle was the designated getaway car of mission suicide.
I thought we were on a suicide mission judging by the snarls and growls from the lionesses. It was like they were saying, “When we get out of here, we’ll take out every last one of you”. I opened the knife from my Leatherman® Fuse™ just in case. I’m not going down without scratching something.
My thoughts during mission suicide:
• This is crazy.
• These animals are stressed. Definition: the cage overriding the lionesses’ desire to rip us in to pieces.
• If something happens, this project is doomed.
• We need to call the vets.
Finally common sense struck: Call the vets, it was agreed. Hallelujah!
We went back to the lodge called Peter Buss from Game Capture Unit in Skukuza. He said he would arrive in two and half hours to sedate the animals and release them. By 22:30 he arrived together with Jenny. They sedated the animals and we released them.
Still no leopards trapped though. Leopards have not moved in those areas…. But in time, they will.
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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