Glenn dubbed yesterday “Double Leopard Monday” because we had an historic event on Okambara: yes, we caught two separate leopards in one go and collared one. Here’s how it happened: Saturday we’d just had a team meeting, brainstorming about why very few animals were going into the traps. We are following all the protocols from last year – changing the meat every 3-4 days, leaving as little human scent as possible around the traps and applying all the good housekeeping methods of attracting leopards.
Sunday morning Glenn and Valerie were the box trap team, and they called in a leopard at the lodge box trap. Excitement! Vera called around for a veterinarian while she and I drove to place a shade net and water for the animal. Sunday was part of a long holiday weekend, and the veterinarian could not come until the following morning. (This is completely okay for the animal to spend one night in the trap—we made sure he was comfortable and safe from other predators.)
The leopard was a young animal about a year old, and since he had to spend the night in the box trap anyways, Vera decided to set another trap next to the cub to see if we could catch the mother.
We met the veterinarian at dawn on Monday, and the anticipation was keen while we waited for Vera to check the trap the next morning to see if we had one or two animals to collar. The beaming smile on Vera’s face gave it away—success! We’d caught the mother as well.
We had a long morning of setting up the field hospital, immobilising the animals one at a time, taking samples of the cub and placing a rice-sized chip in him (the same kind that veterinarians place in pets that can be scanned and read if an animal goes missing, in this case for if he ever gets caught again we’ll know when and where he was first caught.) Too young to collar, we filled him with fluids to ease his immobilisation hangover, and Lynne, our resident (retired) nurse, helped the veterinarian look after him.
Afterwards we placed the cub in the shade in a transfer box so he’d be safe while we immobilised and worked on his mother. In the prime of her life and recently very well fed, the mother was fierce and protective of her cub and took longer to immobilise than her cub. By the time she was collared and placed in the shade with a shot of sedation reversal, it was 13:00 before the team left Vera and the veterinarian watching over the waking up and releasing of the cub and mother together.
Team 2 stood in the hot sun watching and helping with the immobilisations for hours, but they were wired when we got back to camp for “breakfast” at nearly two o’clock in the afternoon. We’d left bush camp at 5:30 in order to check box traps and meet the vet at first light, but believe it or not they ate a few bites and eagerly jumped into the afternoon tasks that needed to be done. Team 2 you are really terrific. Thanks for all of your helpfulness, good humour and team spirit. You rock!
Vera is extremely excited at having caught and collared her first female leopard on Okambara. Collaring females within the ranges of male leopards has been a goal of hers for the past year, so it’s thanks to you – all of you – for making that happen. Shall we try for another two next Monday?