In Memory of Shorty

Sad news…

Shorty or Half-Tail, as celebrity Bush Chef Justin Bonello named “our” GPS collared Leopard, is dead. Shorty was said to be shot by one of my neighbouring farmers near Rooihoogte pass after he caught him in a trap set to protect his flock of sheep.
Shorty The Leopard
It saddens me to know that we are still so far from looking after, rather than destroying Mother Nature – especially us, which live and work daily in these mountains, one would think, we are way more connected with its beauty and fine balance.

Sadly we are all guilty of the killing of Shorty! Guilty for thinking that everyone is on the same track, has the same understanding and care. Guilty for lack of communication – especially with surveys like these that span over several landowners farms, some with very different objectives, views and back grounds. Guilty for buying lamb chops ignorantly, without asking how it came about, to be wrapped so neatly in shiny plastic and displayed on a cooling shelf. Guilty for doing the final dirty deed, thinking it’s in the best interest of one’s produce.
Leopard prints by guest Gerard
Maybe it’s time for “Leopard Friendly Lamb Chops” labels, giving farmers an incentive to look after the last of the wild “Big 5’s” in the Western Cape?

Shorty was one of 41 leopards identified by Landmark Foundation during their survey over the last 2 years in the Koo-Robertson-Greyton area. He was the only GPS collard leopard of the Langeberg delivering a staggering tracking data from just one and only down-load.
HalfTails tracking
Over these 47days he covered a range of up to 300 km2 throughout the Koo Valley, from Keeromsberg in the West to the Eendracht farm on the other side of the R318 in the East, From Naudesberg in the South to Middleberg farm in the North.

Also notable was his half a tail, which was an old wound that he probably suffered during a territorial fight with another leopard.

…When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Ingwe, Ingwe burning bright…

…and in the borrowed words of Landmark Foundation: A luta Continua!

Leopard, Leopard burning bright…

“Leopard, Leopard burning bright
In the trap… of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”

…not quite as romantic as good ol’ William Blake’s poem, yet the sight of this seven year old male caught in our trap was quite a jaw drop…
The Leopard
It was a mild Saturday late morning when Caroline of Landmark Foundation called me: “Last night a leopard had killed another sheep on Nooitgedacht farm… she’s on her way with a trap, we’ve got a 24h window to catch the culprit and GPS collar the animal for further monitoring.”

We met at the Alpie’s house and he pointed out where the dead sheep lay, yet Daniel another neighbour, came to help and showed us exactly where it was dragged to. Too far off drivable terrain even with the 4×4… so Caroline made the call and the trap was set up not far from the kraal where the sheep spend their nights. The dead lamb placed inside as bait and the trap covered in bushes so it would give shade to the caught animal, we left and hoped for the best.

Leopard landmark vehicleFor the next few of days, I drove out to check on any trappings and release them if necessary; after all it was that leopard we were after. The 24 hour window passed without success and so did some more days. Frustration started to set in… and we started to make plans to abandon mission and move the trap. THEN, on the 1st May, with the last thing on my mind on this busy weekend, I get another call from Caroline, all excited she tells me that the workers of Alpie spotted the caught leopard when opening the kraal for the sheep that morning.
All wheels are in motion, a vet is on his way from Riversdal and her colleagues from Knysna are bringing the GPS collar. If I can just make sure no-one is going close to the trap so the Leopard keeps from stressing out any further. I grab all my paperwork and move my “reception” out onto the road so I can direct my arriving guest from there, while standing guard.

Leopard watching from afarFinally by 16:00, the peanut gallery already filled with curious neighbours and farm works by the truck load, the Landmark people arrived with the vet, and even the director of Landmark Foundation, Dr Bool Smuts took a d-tour from his holiday to be here – excitement rises.

First the vet went to check on the animal and estimate its weight to prepare the tranquilisation dart. We all watch from afar and as the vet approaches with the dart gun, the leopard shows even from behind the bars, who’s who in the Karoo. The close-by sheep stampede from the roaring of the proud animal. Another five minutes go by until the leopards is safely asleep and then comes the moment, green light, we are all allowed to approach, calm and silently to get a closer look at this beautiful creature of the night.

Leopard fangs measureThe vet and the Landmark staff work fast and with great method, treating the leopard’s wounds, applying eye drops and even ticks get removed. A tiny piece of skin is collected too, for DNA sampling. The weight is measured (29kg) and so are the teeth, paws, tail (shorter due to a possible rivalry fight) and of course photos of its spots are taken. They serve as “finger prints” to compare with previous photos of other leopards of the Langeberg. In the meantime cell-phones keep clicking away with everyone taking selvies with the mighty beast, while the vet is calmly doing his job – remarkable!

Leopard spectatorsLastly, the GPS collar gets fitted and while everyone is walking back to the vehicles, the animal gets a reversing dose to wake him up again.

I return to Simonskloof – after all I’m still on duty. Later that evening we prepare for a well-deserved celebratory braai, when suddenly out of the dark there comes Caroline walking “in”. Her 4×4 had run out of battery power while checking on the Leopard’s slow recovery progress. First things first: A glass of wine, a bite of dinner to get her fuelled up again. We made her some coffee in a flask (looks like it’s going to be a long night after all) and then I drove Caroline out to the leopard with my trusty Nissan 1400 🙂 a set of jumper cables and some blankets to cover the leopard to keep him warm while recovering.

The Landmark ladiesWhen we arrive at the 4×4, almost getting stuck in the freshly ploughed field myself, the Leopard still lies next to the trap making some movements, too lively for us to approach with the blankets, yet not strong enough to walk off. Excited we watch leaving the jump-starting for later… Hours go by, I dose off on a 15min rhythm while Caroline keeps a watch full eye. The leopard showing very slow progress, we feel very sorry for the animal and every now and then a shooting star crosses the icy night sky above.

Then, at 05:45, well before the first light of dawn he gathers the strength and moves off in the renosterbos belt behind the trap. We are relieved and connect the batteries – always watching our backs (seen too many Hollywood movies) for a sudden return of the “beast”. Eventless Caroline’s Toyota springs to life and we make our way through the soft field past dongas in the dark, back to the road and go our separate ways, happy to know that No 48 is alive and save back in the hills again.

The Leopard 2The way forward: “Our” leopard is the 48th leopard that was saved by Landmark Foundation from getting killed by ignorant people. Fortunately our neighbours know the benefit of having leopards roam freely, despite the loss of livestock they suffer. He’s the 24th GPS collared leopard, this enables Landmark Foundation to track his very movement and if the livestock owner adheres to a non-poisoning policy, as well as certain improvements in the keeping of his livestock suggested by Landmark, then he gets market related compensation for any further loss caused by the “GPS leopard”.

Leopard spoorAnd this is where WE (you and I) come in! After such a successful “rescue” mission I came up with an idea of how to support the saving of these awesome animals: With any future booking at Simonskloof you’ll have the option to make a donation at your own discretion via Simonskloof and we’ll match your amount to the max of 10% of your booking value! To see more about their good work visit Landmark Foundation.

And once we’ll know more about his walkabouts we’ll for sure let you know.

Thank you and ‘till then…

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder and what art
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears,
Did He smile His work to see?
Did He who made the lamb make thee?

Ingwe, Ingwe burning bright…

Leopards roam Simonskloof

We finally have photographic proof: The Cape Mountain Leopards roam Simonskloof!
Leopard Yesterday, a week after on of the guest took a photo of two Leopard prints down toward Keerom dam, I downloaded the data from the two camera traps set up by the Landmark Foundation. And what a joy: 1 Leopard, 2 Rooikat, several Steenbokkies, 1 Rhebok, a couple of Scrub Hare (still hoping to spot the Riverine Rabbit…) 1 Honey Badger, 3 Spotted Genet, and a couple of dogs and guests either in 4×4’s, MTB’s or on foot, including Kanda and Matata our border collies.Rooikat

Wonderful news indeed to know these cats are still alive and kicking right on the edge of a sheep farming area.

To see more of the pictures taken please visit our Facebook page!

Leopard Friendly Farm

On 17th June 2012 – Ziggy & Carolyn, two field researchers from the “Landmark Foundation” visited Simonskloof with a camera trap in hand and a sign stating Simonskloof a Leopard Friendly Farm. Sunday lunch was almost ready, Leopard Friendly Fram Sign board but some things come first, so we drove down the kloof and after a quick hike across “Hemel Bome” our rather alien orchard of old bonsai pear trees of 1.5 m height and way over 30 year old alive and well, well “Heaven Trees” not for nothing. But I’m diverting, sorry…

So there I took them down that little contributory to the Nuy River, where I frequently spot Leopard tracks when taking guests kloofing. Nothing that day, well typical… But to my amazement the experts had a much simpler location in mind anyhow! So before we returned to their 4×4, I showed them the old leopard trap on the edge of the orchard. The trap must have been used last when the trees were planted in the 1970’s but its trapdoors got burned in the many bush fires this mountain has seen over the many years and so rendered useless – or leopard friendly 🙂 The old Leopard Trap It also is unusually big, was Ziggy’s comment the normal size is a quarter of this one… that way the leopard once caught will not run wildly around the cage and charge at the approaching person and thus hurt itself – makes sense.

Back down at the 4×4, Carolyn quickly got to work and installed the camera trap nearby where they sensed the leopard would walk past. The batteries should last a month, so let’s see what the lens will pick up. We’ll definitely keep you posted!Camera trap

Oh and for those “Geocachers” of you, go and check: “Leopard Friendly Trap” GC3NXYX it’s Matata’s latest cache, in admiration of the good work of the Landmark Foundation.