Today I got to go with 3 volunteers to take the 2 baby leopard for a bush walk. What an adventure. Our driver, Aleks, took us out and dropped us off—and off they ran. We scrambled to follow, and now I know firsthand what it feels like to herd cats. Basically, it’s impossible. You can FOLLOW cats, but there’s no leading or herding.
Eventually, after about an hour, they stopped to rest. The male, Gabana decided to take a nap under a tree, while the female (Dolce) wanted to keep on running. Two of the volunteers took out after her and Audrey and I stayed with Gabana. About 10 minutes later he woke up and we decided we better try to get him turned around and headed toward the road. We had no idea where the others had gone, but we trusted them to make it back to the road.
We wandered for about 45 minutes and hoped we were going in the right direction. (It is sooo easy to get turned around in the bush where everything looks the same and there are no paths to follow.) We tried to go in a straight line, but Gabana wanted none of that. In fact, he wanted to climb a tree and sleep. We tried carrying him, but he hissed and growled. We pushed him from behind. We tried to lead him. We cajoled, pleaded, and begged him to come with us.
Now it had been two hours and we didn’t know exactly where we were. Gabana climbed a tree and refused to come down. Well. Now what?
Audrey admitted she had no sense of direction, so it was really just me to figure out what direction we should be going. Our water was gone. So she stayed with Gabana and I walked 300 paces in the direction I thought the road was. No road. I turned back and (yea!) found her again. Then I adjusted about 5 degrees and counted off 300 paces again. The road! But then suddenly Audrey was gone—or at least I couldn’t find her. I called and called and finally she heard me and answered and I found her, the tree, and Gabana.
We lured Gabana down with my (now empty) water bottle, picked him up, and carried the squirming, hissing, clawing mass of fur for as long as we could. By this time, Aleks arrived with the truck, she honked, I went to find her, and we managed to get Gabana to the truck. Fortunately, the other two volunteers and their cat had also managed to get to a road—though a loooong way off. (Their leopard had refused to turn around so they just went forward for 2 ½ hours.)
We made it home, exhausted but laughing about our attempt at herding cats. What an adventure. Crazy cats.On a sad note, Sam the lion died this weekend. His story is told in my book: he was born in 1990 and it was found that he had FIV—the equivalent of AIDS in humans. Sam was isolated with his also-infected brother Robert in an enclosure of their own so they wouldn’t infect other lions. Robert lived to 2006 and Sam till now. I love this story because this is what Harnas is all about: most people would have put them down rather than deal with their illness, but Marieta refused to do that. She gave them as good a life as they could live, and they both lived a long and happy life. When Sam died, he was the second oldest lion here at Harnas—21! He was a lucky lion.