After midnight the phone rings. My heart sinks. But it is Quinton – Tell Jurg, we've caught A LEOPARD!! Jurg falls out of bed and in one and a half hours he has joined the others at Driehoek. Driving carefully to avoid two grysbok, a duiker, and rabbits who run along the road.
|Waiting with the Cape Leopard Trust at Driehoek|
The young Cape mountain leopard is in good hands – Dr Quinton Martins researcher at the Cape Leopard Trust, Dr Marc Walton the on-call vet (that’s animal not war) from Ceres,
Marine Drouilly (CederbergCaracalProject) a caracal researcher from France, Patrick Lane from Cape Nature with an English nature conservation student, Elizabeth Martins recording the data, Swiss volunteer Jurg and Dawie Burger the farmer at Driehoek.
|Cape mountain leopard immobilized by the Trust before collaring|
|Taking samples from the immobilized Cape mountain leopard|
|The net so the Cape mountain leopard can be lifted and weighed|
The vet is on duty to bring the required dose of sedative, but it is Quinton who fires the tranquillising dart. When the two of them are sure the leopard is immobilized, they call the rest by radio. Now the team moves fast, against time. The leopard is hooded to protect his eyes from the bright headlamps and torches. He is measured. Samples are taken for DNA testing, diseases and his immune system. His teeth, claws, and the paw which was held gently and securely by the foot loop trap, are checked for damage. All clear.
|Cape mountain leopard teeth|
|Cape mountain leopard claws|
|Cape mountain leopard being collared by Dr Quinton Martins|
Patch is Spot’s son, 26 months old, not yet fully grown. Perhaps a son of Max who died in January? He will be DNA tested. A female collar was used because it is light. Fitted to allow room, as his neck grows. The day before Patch ate the chunk of goat set out as bait, and chewed on the electronic predator caller while carefully avoiding the trap. But on the night of the 12th of March he was successfully caught.
|Jurg with his first Cape mountain leopard|
Carefully lifted into the dedicated release cage, and the group drives about a kilometre away. To Jurg falls the honour of pulling the rope which opens the door for the animal which is growing restless. We wait, and the leopard stays in the box. Start the engine. No, stays in the box. Again. A ring of cameras poised waiting. As the leopard shoots out to safety, no one clicks at the crucial moment. Plan B is the video running on its tripod. He turns to glance back, then disappears slowly off into a moonlit night.
|The Cape Leopard Trust releasing a newly collared Patch|
Saturday is Earth Hour – we gather four nations – around our Cape mountain leopard. Just one of many reasons we will switch off the lights, leave the computer from 2030 to 2130, and do everything we can for this one earth on which we all live.
For the earlier part of our Cape leopard story, click the CLT tab/page top centre below the elephant's eye in my header.
Pictures by Jurg, words by Diana of Elephant's Eye
- wildlife gardening in Porterville, near Cape Town in South Africa
(If you mouse over brown text, it turns shriek pink. Those are my links.)