Eighteen months after being rescued from wildlife traffickers who kidnapped them from a den when they were tiny cubs, leopard siblings Jack and Claudi have been released into the wild at Nkomazi Private Game Reserve near eManzana (Badplaas) in southern Mpumalanga.
Members of the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency (MPTA) saved the cubs last year and handed them to the Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, where they spent three months before being moved to Nkomazi in May last year.
They were treated and raised in an enclosure until they were strong enough to be released into the wild.
Nkomazi co-owner Dewyk Vos said it was an emotional day when they were finally set free in the park.
“It was an emotional moment for me to see those two animals walk free. They’ve spent the past 14 months in a quarter hectare enclosure and this became too small for them. The time was also right to release them into the greater part of the reserve. Any longer in captivity and they would not be able to be rehabilitated.”
Over the past few months staff have reduced the amount of time they spent with the cubs to prevent them becoming reliant on humans.
“In the beginning, obviously, we had to spend quite a lot of time with the cubs for feeding, cleaning and protection. However, over the past five months their only contact with people has been when we dropped off food.”
That doesn’t mean the release was easy. The pair was hesitant at first, and had to be coaxed out.
They are fitted with tracking devices to monitor their progress over the next few months.
“The natural environment is on their side. The property is large enough to accommodate quite a few leopards and there is sufficient food for them to thrive.
“Our anti-poaching unit will watch over them at night to ensure lions don’t get close. We will also check whether we have to do supplemental feeding while they’re improving their hunting skills.”
Vos hopes Claudi will eventually mate with another adult male in Nkomazi with Jack perhaps pairing with the second female in the reserve.
This article by Kyle Zeeman was first published by The Sunday Times on 13 July 2021. Lead Image: The two cubs the morning after they were first rediscovered. The male (left) is already noticeably bigger than his sister. Photo by James Tyrrell.
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