They’re Back!!!!!

Posted on September 20, 2008

It was been a long and hard road getting to this point, but as of this morning, Makwela and her last remaining cub are back, with a little help from their friends.

Since I last reported back to you, there have been many ups and downs with regards to Makwela and her cub, and it is amazing how many people have been touched by this saga and are desperate for news.

We held an emergency meeting five days ago with the Lodges in the Western Sector to strategies ways in which we could resolve this issue to the benefit of all concerned. We unanimously agreed that our first priority was our responsibility to the Local Community; their safety is always our primary concern, and coupled with this, our responsibility to Makwela and her cub, we needed to come up with a plan to get them back, time was running out for them, and there is no question in my mind it was a matter of time before they would both meet an untimely end.

The terrain outside, up in the hills, is a very difficult place to walk, let alone try and dart a female leopard and her cub, there are just too many places for them to hide up in the rocky outcrops and caves. Seeking advice from the Veterinary Services in the Kruger National Park, it was suggested we use a large cage with a trap door, and try and lure them in with bait, commonly known as a predator trap. Once we managed to get hold of one, this cage was transported half way up the mountain, and left in a place where the freshest tracks had been located. It was a very long shot as neither Makwela nor the cub had been sighted for a couple of days; we had to go on what the tracks told us. Once the trap had been set, our colleagues from Ulusaba sat vigil at the base of the hill and waited.

Amazingly at 23h00, that night, the cub entered the cage and sprung the gate, and Makwela was seen sitting up next to the trap looking amazingly relaxed. I was called out at first light that morning, and from a vantage point, could quite clearly see the cub in the cage, with Makwela actually sitting on top of the cage, both looking quite unconcerned. Once again we were faced with a dilemma, we had the cub, but we still needed to get Makwela. Walking up onto the mountain to try and dart her was not an option, the only choice left to us was to put another cage next to the where the cub was caught in the hope she would be enticed into it, a log shot, but worth a try. Carrying the second cage up the mountain and placing it next to where the cubs cage was a hair-raising experience, knowing Makwela was somewhere close by watching us from the safety of the dense bush. The Last thing we needed was for her to charge out the bushes at us while we positioned the second cage, not something I was eager to add to my list of close calls.

Fortunately everything went to plan and the second cage was now in position and baited, all we could do now was retire to the base of the mountain and wait. Again personal and colleagues from neighbouring Lodges sat vigil. I had a report that evening that Makwela had come out of hiding, moved down the mountain to the second cage, and without hesitation, walked directly into it. It was jubilation when she appeared and entered the trap; shortly followed by huge disappointment when she walked out again when the mechanism malfunctioned………….it was an all time low as she disappeared into the bush with the bait. Being too late to rebate the cage, the Team had to wait till morning to move back up the hill, giving them an opportunity to give the cub water and ensure it still had a good supply of meat in the cage.

Although the cub had now been in the cage for a second night, it was looking surprisingly healthy, but despite this, we all know this would be the last chance to get Makwela, time was running out and we were running out of options. As evening closed in there was an air of anticipation, trepidation and many a prayer was said around the fire that night. With the wind howling and a blanket of cloud cover, the night was dark, it would be impossible to hear if the trap had been sprung, everyone would have to wait until first light to see if the plan has been a success.

As dawn broke this morning, imagine the feelings and the sense of jubilation, there in the cage next to her little cub was Makwela, pacing up and down, and by all accounts not too happy to be there, we had them both. It was time to move quickly, and to cause as little stress as possible, both were tranquilized and moved off the mountain as soon as they went to sleep.

We chose a place in the south called Wallingford Dam, many of you will know this location, it is far enough south that is an area the Tegwane Male Leopard has not ventured into yet, but it is still part of her original territory, a place she knows well. I left there an hour ago as mother and son, yes it is a male, were waking up. We have a Team watching her constantly until she is fully recovered from the sedation and monitoring their progress closely………the next few days will be critical and every effort will be made to make sure she does not venture out of the Reserve again, although this is easier said than done. The particular area she has been leaving the Reserve has been secured as best we can, but time will tell whether we have been successful in this feat or not.

We have deliberated long and hard about what the best course of action would be should we get to this stage, and we have looked at all the options available to us. There is no doubt she left originally due to the new male taking over, and if she didn‘t have the cubs she would have had no reason to go out. However over the last few weeks she has been returning on a regular basis, we believe not to hunt as she has been claiming food outside. We believe she has been returning to see if it safe to bring her cub back, to a place she has knows so well and a place she wants to be. It was mentioned but never really contemplated as an option to take her cub away from her, that is not our right to do, we must give them the best possible chance together, and by all accounts, if she gets through the next few weeks to a month, the cub will be of an age that it might well be safe, even if there is an encounter with the new male, so long as submissiveness is shown, certainly this is what the experts believe, we shall wait and see.

There are just too many people to thank for all the help and assistance they have put into this operation, it has been a huge Team effort. In particular to Karl and his Team and Willem and his Team, it is efforts like this when everyone pulls together for a common interest that I realise that the Western Sector of the Sabi Sand Reserve is an even more special place to live if that is possible.

The pictures below were taken this morning as mother and son were waking up from the tranquilizers, a little “groggy” but looking in good shape. Thanks to Louise for the pictures she took of Makwela and her son just under an hour ago.

25 thoughts on “They’re Back!!!!!

  1. Well done to everyone for their commitment,patience and love for this amazing Leopard. I was privilaged this morning to be able to go out with Megan and Kiara to see her coming round from the effects of the anaesthetic, now we pray she stays where she belongs.

  2. What an amazing story! Brilliant work – well done and let’s hope they stay safe.
    This should have been filmed for National Geographic Dunx!!!

  3. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!
    I am so grateful to all Bush People who helped to bring them back!
    Awesome story Duncan ? you?ve just made my day ? many thanks!!!

  4. What an incredible saga. Thank you to all involved for continuing to make Leopard Hills and the surrounding area such a wonderful travel destination! We will continue to watch for your updates and hope all goes well!

  5. Fantastic news! Congratulations to everyone involved and thank you for caring so much. Duncan, as always, a brilliant story in true Duncan style… Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed. I will hold thumbs for the two of them…

  6. HIP – HIP HOORAY, for the Leopard Hills team and all who assisted from the Sabi Sands Reserve. ‘Alone you stand divided, together you have conquered’ and brought our Makwela back to us!!! Excellence story Duncan, superbly written. I did my own victory dance to celebrate hearing the good news. I hope our Lady and darling son settle back comfortably into the territory she has known and ruled for years!! VIVA MAKWELA VIVA!!!

  7. Duncan, even though you recounted the story to me this morning over the phone, it was brilliant to read it on the blog. I was literally, hanging on to each sentance! Thanks for keeping us updated & posting the great news so fast.

  8. Duncan,
    Your brillant writing gave me goosebumps!! Thanks to the "team" from all the camps. It looks like Makwela’s injuries have healed. Long live Makwela and son!!!!!

  9. In advance, let me apologize for typos. I can’t see the keyboard for my tears of joy. The whole Makwela story will make a wonderful film. Let’s all make a movie together and immortalize "The Queen of the Western Sector".

  10. What a conundrum – interfear with nature or let it take its course ! We heartily agree with the final decision & hope that the local people will reflect in similar vein, with no adverse repurcussions. Congratulations to ALL who invested time and effort in this (worthy) cause ! Just DE-lighted. Nick & Marilyn

  11. Hear, hear, Viva Makwela! Thanks to everyone who worked so hard and diligently to keep these gorgeous gifts of nature safe. Let’s all keep our thoughts & prayers with the team onsite, along with the cats, that they stay safe and live long, healthy lives IN the Reserve. Congratulations to you all and thank you again.

  12. Hear, hear, Viva Makwela! Thanks to everyone who worked so hard and diligently to keep these gorgeous gifts of nature safe. Let’s all keep our thoughts & prayers with the team onsite, along with the cats, that they stay safe and live long, healthy lives IN the Reserve. Congratulations to you all and thank you again.

  13. Thanks to everyone for the very positive response. I would just like to point out that under normal circumstances, if these Leopards had moved out of the area into another section of the Reserve due to the pressure of another male Leopard moving in, we would not have interfered, our policy of letting nature take its course would have definitely prevailed, no matter what our "human" emotion told us.

    However these circumstances were not "normal", and we had to act in the best interests of the Community bordering the Reserve, for their safety and for the fact that these animals would most probably have met an unnatural demise, as we unfortunately saw with one of her cubs.

    We believe very strongly in nature taking its course, and endeavour as much as possible to follow this principal. We have already taken criticism over our actions in this regards, but we stand by our judgement and actions, as we have responsibilities beyond our borders.

    Thanks again for the words of support.

  14. Oh I am so happy ! I have been recounting the Makwela saga to some of my friends, they will love this chapter! and that little boy sure is growing fast!! Thanks for the story and pictures, how lucky you all are to be there and to have such experiences.

  15. Duncan, what a heart-warming story. We never got to see Makwela and her cubs as they were still protected in their den. You and your team did the right thing……

  16. Duncan, great news. It is wonderful that Makwela and her cub are well, and now back in the reserve (here’s hoping that they stay!). Great work by all involved in getting them safely back, it’s great to hear of the teamwork from the various camps working together for a greater good. Your story was really well written and had me sitting on the edge of seat. I am realy looking forward to seeing Makwela and her cub on my next visit.

  17. This is fantastic…I hope she stays where she is. My daughter Mia who is 6 & is know at Ulusaba Rock, has known Makwela for about 2 years now & has been following this story with me very closely. Mia was very excited to tell me that Makwela & her cub were back, Brian & her read the e-mail before I did!! I was very relieved & I thought it was quite incredible that a person gets so caught up in the lives of wild animals that you have come to know & love! A trip to the Western Sector would not be the same if you didn’t see Makwela, she is Royalty in her own Right. It is fantastic that all of you made such an effort to get her & her remaining cub back & Thanks so much Duncan for keeping us all updated, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t get news from Leopard Hills, I would feel totally lost, before we even visited Sabi Sands I got the rangers report, so when we eventually did pay a visit I got to see all the animals I had read about for so long…Keep up the good work & thank goodness we have people as dedicated & as pationate as you guys are about the Wildlife in our country!!

  18. Even from far away in the U.S. your caring and love of nature and god’s creatures shines through. I think this is really the essence of what makes Leopard Hills such a wonderful place to visit. It is not just a visit, it is the experience of a lifetime. If only everyone treated animals and the environment the way all of you do, this would be a much better world.

  19. You’ve made my day… I kept wondering waht it was going to be like without Makwela next year, now I have hopes she will be there.

    Duncs maybe you should keep her in Room 8 for a while (like a year).

    Great work guys.

  20. Good to have you back too chopped liver! hope you are well and yes we will keep Makwela in room 8 to keep her comfortable. hope you are both well. Lou

  21. What an amazing story! Well done to everyone involved. It would be great to see some more pictures of mother and son soon. I saw them, when there were 4 back at the start of August and they were tiny. It is great to be able to track the highs and lows and see them grow.

  22. Thanks for the update Dunx. An amazing story! We were away at the coast and having had no access to a computer, Makwela and her cub were on my mind all the time. Having had a photo of Makwela & her 3 cubs as my screen saver it has been an amazing experience hearing what has been happening to Makwela and her cubs. Hoping now that she and her remaining cub don’t venture far! Well done to all.

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