When Brian Jones and his team from Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre set out to rescue a snared leopard on Sunday, July 6, they were not sure what to expect. They were shocked by the horrific sight that met them once they reached the near-dead animal entangled in the bushes in a Komatiland plantation in Agatha, Tzaneen.
The snare was clearly designed to catch smaller animals for it had a 32 cm diameter and was tied to a short pole of about 1.5 metres. In her desperate attempts to free herself from the device, the leopard got stuck and sustained severe injuries. She lost a canine and a molar tooth in the struggle. Her mouth was swollen and bleeding. She even bit off some of her back toes in her distress.
She was badly dehydrated, highly stressed and clearly in a critically condition. The snare had cut deep into her stomach and the wound was already infested with maggots. It is estimated that this young leopard, believed to be 10 to 12 months old, was snared for at least five days before she was discovered. According to Brian the animal was so stressed that her eyes turned backwards.
He said she was so exhausted that she did not even put up much of a fight when they caught her and transported her back to the rehabilitation centre. "She is very weak and wouldn't eat. She barely lifts her head to drink water" Brian explained to Dr Peter Rogers, Hoedspruit-based wildife veterinarian, when he took the animal to his practice on Thursday, July 10.
They suspected some obstruction that caused her not to eat. In the presence of a group of students from Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre, Dr Rogers and his team began the delicate investigation to find the cause. While the medical team was working on the young animal, Brian expressed his disgust at the whole situation. He believes that inadequate conservation practices are to blame for this unfortunate incident.
According to him the snares are set about a metre from the road in this specific area. He explained that should an animal be caught in it, it would be visible for passing motorists. Hence the suspicion that the culprits are the very same people who are suppose to look after the animals in that area. The original call for help came from Mark Barnardo, the plantation manager of Komatiland in Agatha.
According to him the 4 500 ha plantation is not fenced thus the movement of people cannot be controlled. He described the conservation of the area as a mammoth task that they alone are not capable of handling themselves. By Monday, July 14 a relieved Brian told the Kruger Park Times that the leopard had its first meal and is starting to show signs of improvement. She will be kept at the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre.
"If she manages to make it through this terrible ordeal, she will be cared for until she is fit to be released again."