August 17, 2012
My camera case has a hole in it left by a leopard tooth. If you look closely, my crocks also have a little chew mark from the same leopard. The leopard is the last of the “big 5” (Cape Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard) that I’ve seen in Africa. But I didn’t expect to meet two so up close. Two leopard cubs were orphaned. They would normally have died but someone rescued them, and then left on holiday, or assignment, or something, and they ended up at Yei Road Camp (co-owned with the Jebel, where I’m staying).
I take lunch every day at Yei Road, which is near the station. The leopards have become the camp mascots and a minor tourist attraction. I’m amazed at how similar big cats are to my cats. Lions I’ve seen in the wild have some of the same facial expressions (closed, squinted eyes) and the same ways of ly
ing when sleeping (one leg in the air, for instance) but these “kitties” are, well, kitties. Generators at the
camp shift in 6 hour shifts. The generator that’s on from 10 AM to 4 PM annoys so they nap in cabin 5 under a “tweety bird” blanket (although one likes to seep in a file cabinet drawer.) When people come in they roll over to get their tummies scratched and if I sit on the mattress at least one will climb onto my lap. They hiss at a camera flash.
On Friday the bold one came up to me when I entered and started rubbing against my leg. This can’t be a good thing for a wild leopard to do. It endears them to people but I‘m not sure that’s the right thing for a wild leopard in the long run. Right now they’re the size of a large full grown house cat, and like a full grown house cat sometimes they draw blood while playing, but they will become much bigger. When not in the cabin they are in a caged enclosure between two other cabins. They go for a walk every day in the tall grass. They do not run away yet. We’re all concerned for their futures.
Most zoos are not interested in these cubs. They say they will become “problem cats” because they were born in the wild but have been raised by people. Anges and Ann know of 2 programs that will rehabilitate them to return to the wild. But they have to be in the program by 16 weeks. They are 12 weeks now. South Sudan has issued exit permits but they need an entrance permit from Kenya (Leopard passports?) and so far the Kenyan officials seem to be reacting with “we have enough leopards here thank you.” (Or perhaps it is “what’s in it for me?”) But it still may happen. The other option is a center in South Africa, which may be more promising. After 16 weeks the only options are a zoo or keeping them until they become a danger (perhaps a few more months) and then putting them down. But these “kitties” have a lot going for them. Hard bitten old Africa hands melt when they see them, I’ve seen it. They are developing quite a fan base.
A week ago Suzi and I drove around Juba and environs to make field strength measurements for the radio station. We were looking for holes in coverage that low powered “gap fillers” can fill in. We found one, in a neighborhood right behind the Jebel (hill) where about 20,000 people live. We suspected it was there but we now have measurements. The drive was amazing for me because the place looks so different from what it did just three and a half month ago. The greening of the season is part of it, but all the new construction as well. A turkul, or round hut, sits in a compound with a new breeze block building with a metal or tile roof. It’s the “peace dividend.” There are also improved roads, although many are still pretty rough.
There is a real difference between what I see now and what I saw three months ago. I took a picture of the Jebel, hill, behind Juba in April, when it was brown. Now it is lush green.
Suzi took the pictures above before she left Juba. The pictures of me in the body of the letter are also Suzi’s, The others are mine. I like the leopard paw reaching up to bat my camera, in play, I think.