"Klootjie"– named after the legendary 19th Century San horse thief that eluded Lord Charles Somerset, as well as any many others who tried to capture him, has been captured and collared on Bushmans Kloof reserve in the northern Cederberg. He is a beautiful territorial male leopard. This is the third male I have collared in the area. We caught him on the 17th July, once again in a walk-though cage without using any bait what-so-ever. He weighed in at a healthy 31kg (quite average for our little mountain leopards), and was in very good condition. I was quite overwhelmed by this capture so soon after we got to re-collar “Houdini” only last month.
On the 1st of May we set a cage trap to recapture "Houdini" in the Kloof heading to Duiwelsgat in the Cederberg. The battery for his GPS collar had run flat and we needed to replace it as soon as possible. Rika du Plessis & her team of field rangers were actively involved in checking the trap twice a day. Every walk began with excitement and anticipation, ending with disappointment. As many already know, Houdini, the leopard, had been captured three times before (escaping from the cage twice). We were sure we would get him again - but when?
This called for a lot of patience. A couple of times we found fresh male leopard tracks that were close to the cage - but no leopard. Then, on the 10th of June, eventually, we hit the jackpot. Rika went to check the cage & found a leopard there to reward her for her trouble. Not wanting to waste time or disturb the cat, she left it a lone without asking its name and raced back to notify me. Soon we had the ball set in motion. Dr Andre van der Merwe was called out to assist. Eventually, at 8.30pm, we all gathered on Uitkyk pass ready to dart the leopard caught.
At this point we still did not know who was in the cage, so Rika & I tested the VHF radio signal and to our surprise, got a weak response. It was Houdini after all! We had now caught this guy 4 times! We could now dart him, remove the old collar, and replace it with a new collar. Everything went well, but for a hair-raising moment when Houdini managed to grab the barrel of the dart gun and try destroy it with his jaws. Luckily I managed to grab it back before any serious damage was done, and we soon got him tranquilised.
He is in very good condition and shows no signs of the collar hindering his activities. We eventually released him at 1.30am after he had recovered from the drugs we had administered to him, and boy, what a party we then had when we got back home!! I am not sure who woke up feeling the worse for wear that day - Houdini or me.
I would especially like to thank Rika and Andre for their incredible support of The Cape Leopard Trust. Also, thanks to the Cederberg field rangers, Willem Titus Jaco van Deventer, Johan Burger and Sarah Smith for all their help and effort put into the project. Now that I am beginning my PhD here in the Cederberg, I aim, over the next couple of years, to collar 12 leopards (6 females & 6 males). So there will still be a lot of excitement ahead for us all.