July 14, 2010

Leopard rescue


Tuesday the 23rd March was going to be a relaxed day before the new group’s arrival the next day. We had planned to put a pvc sheet over one of the new tents, and fix up a few things in camp to get it ready.

A call from our neighbours with a problem with the water pump gave us some excitement, and we headed out to help fix the water pump. On our way home we decided to see if the R36 river crossing was crossable, and proved that it was not. Once we had got ourselves out with the help of GVI’s new high-lift jack, we headed back to camp.

As we passed the junction with North-South main and East-West main Jaco spotted a leopard next to the road. I stopped the landrover so we could view the leopard. As she walked off we could see that the left-hand side of her face was extremely swollen.
We contacted the reserve warden, Kobus, and he came out to have a look before making a decision on what action to take. We baked in the sun for two hours while the leopard enjoyed the shade of a tree. Once Kobus arrived the leopard moved off, but we managed to keep track of her next to the road. She again settled down in the shade, leaving us in the sun again.
Kobus managed to get hold of the relevant landowners to get permission to call the local vet, Dr. Pete Rogers, and also to be able to put a collar on the leopard.
When Dr. Rogers arrived we collected him, and returned to the leopard. She was in thickish grass and we were worried that it would not be possible to dart her where she lay. Dr. Rogers took his opportunity and after we had determined how she was lying, he darted her in her shoulder. She took exception to this and after turning to ace us with a grunt, she dashed off into the bush, and out of our view.
Fortunately Kobus found her soon after that, and Jaco helped carry her back closer to the road so that Dr. Rogers could work on her.
She was still in good condition, but once Dr. Rogers had opened her mouth, it became apparent that there was something seriously wrong about her mouth. Two teeth and some other material came out of her mouth, and she was bleeding heavily from the area.
The prognosis is not good, the swelling seems to be due to a tumour, and Dr. Rogers took samples to have checked to see how serious the damage is. After stabilising the leopard Dr. Rogers administered the recovery drug, and after a few minutes she recovered and moved off from the road. Kobus had put a telemetry collar on her while she was asleep, so that we could monitor her progress.
The next morning Kobus provided an impala for her, to see if she could feed, and help her recovery.
There are always questions asked when it comes to taking an active part in assisting animals that are injured or in a bad way. Although we prefer not to interfere with nature, we have to consider that injured animals can often become problem animals as their ability to catch natural prey is reduced. Also within a small reserve such as Karongwe the relaxed individual animals in each population are our most valuable. It has taken us several years to get a female leopard habituated to vehicles in the south of the reserve, and to loose this animal now would set us back to where we were in the reserve five years ago.
We still need to hear from Dr. Rogers, if the sample collected indicates that the tumour is malignant, then we might be forced to put the leopard down before she becomes a danger to people in camps. We hope that she does recover, holding thumbs.
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