Last month we started leopard trapping again. It’s always an exciting time for the project but also a lot of hard work. We had two leopard collars left which we wanted to deploy. We were aiming to catch two males this time. To improve our chances we set up our traps in areas where we had the possibility to catch O’Malley, Thor or Windhoek.
For a few nights before we opened the traps there was a lot of leopard spoor around and we were feeling optimistic. For the first three nights we saw leopard footprints leading into several traps but the animals didn’t quite get close enough to trigger them. On the fourth night Sam and Shannon went out at 11 pm to check the traps and heard the sound of a triggered trap from one of the trapsite transmitters. We attach these small machines to each trap which send out a radio signal. The signal tone changes if an animal has been caught and pulled against the foot loop. These transmitters are great because it means we can check on the traps more frequently and since we can check from a distance we save on fuel. We also create fewer disturbances in the trapping area by reducing our driving.
Sam and Shannon drove towards the trap to check what had been caught. It was a leopard. The vet and the rest of the data collection team were summoned. We all piled in the car with our equipment. We were about 250 m from the animal when the first disaster struck! We had to drive across a muddy patch and the lead car got properly stuck. Sam tried to come in with the truck to tow it out but his car got stuck as well. We put branches and rocks under the tyres but the cars weren’t moving. Plan B began. Sam and Oldrich hiked back to Lajuma and retrieved two more vehicles. The first car (the landrover) went ahead along an alternative route with the vet to dart the leopard while the second car towed out the stuck truck which had the recovery crate on the back.
Off we went in the landy up the back road. We were getting closer and closer to the animal. At about 400 m away we were scuppered by tree that had fallen in the road. Luckily we had an axe, several saws and loppers so we began to lumberjack away. Eventually we cleared the road and both cars continued towards the animal.
We eventually arrived at the leopard and he was huge. We could see that it was O’Malley, the leopard we wanted to catch the most. The vet normally darts the animal from a vehicle with sun roof so she can stand up and get a good angle. Unfortunately with this vehicle stuck in the mud, the vet had to dart from the small side windows of the landrover. But she was a great shot and the animal went into a deep sleep.
Sam collared O’Malley. We weighed him (63 kgs), took blood samples, took body measurements, and took identification and aging photographs. We released him the next morning.
Over the next few days we kept a close eye on O’Malley’s movements using the GPS collar. He wasn’t moving very far so we kept traps closed. After a few days he moved away, all the way to the far western end of the mountain. We thought it was time to try to a second leopard. All the traps reopened a week and a half after we caught O’Malley. The first night of reopening Katy set out to check the traps and again there was the sound of a triggered trap. A big male leopard was sitting waiting. When the vet approached to dart him, we could see a collar. This wasn’t a good sign but we thought maybe it’s BB, a male who we collared last year. It wasn’t BB. It was O’Malley again. We have never recaught the same individual again so soon after the first catch.
Sam downloaded all his GPS fixes from the collar. O’Malley had literally ninjaed his way back around from a long distance as soon as the traps opened! We couldn’t believe it. The vet treated O’Malley for a minor cut on his paw and he was rereleased the next morning.
We decided that we didn’t want to risk catching O’Malley for a third time as it wouldn’t be fair on him and could only hinder our progress. The decision was made to close all our traps and to wait until later in the year to try for the second animal.