Leopard caught, darted in Benoni laundry room
A Gauteng veterinarian received an unusual callout on Monday morning, 22 July 2019, when he was asked to remove a leopard from a Benoni home. Dr Cliff Bull from the Craig View Veterinary Clinic said he was out darting nyala when the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) contacted him about a stray leopard that had apparently been spotted in someone's garden harassing their worker and dog. But when he heard the size of the animal described as "between a labrador and a pitbull" he initially thought it had been misidentified. "Realistically, you'd think it would be a spotted genet…" he said.
Bull then he received an update that the animal had been trapped in someone's laundry room. "Apparently the maid had walked into the washroom and seen the leopard, so she ran out and closed the door," he said. The chain of events was a lucky one for Bull, as it instantly improved his chances of a successful catch. However, it also created a problem.
With the young leopard trapped in a confined space, it would be virtually impossible to access the washroom without being attacked. "It's not your normal domestic house cat that you can use a catching stick or a net," Bull explained. "What a lot of people don't realise about most cats when you dart them, they're explosive and they react. So, the minute that dart hits the leopard it's gonna come 100 percent for you," he said.
As the leopard hid behind the washing machine, a plan was hatched. Seeing how the cat jumped up and growled when someone appeared at one of the windows, Bull asked one of the bystanders to provoke the animal while he positioned himself at another window with the dart gun. "As he jumped up, I managed to get quite a clear shot on his right shoulder."
But the nerve-wracking episode was far from over, as the now-sedated leopard had chewed on one of the pipes and water was leaking all over the floor in the small room with electronic appliances and lots of civilians around. However, Bull had no choice but to wait for the anaesthetic to kick in. "Even a half-sedated a leopard could do a lot of damage," he explained.
He used a feather duster with a long handle to probe it a bit, then used his cellphone to see how reactive the cat was and went for it. He grabbed the leopard by the tail and the scruff of the neck and carried it outside where it was handed over to the care of wildlife rehabilitation staff.
He said way the animal was handled was for the safety of the cat and the people around it. "In the wild, if you look at how lionesses and leopards carry their young, they carry them by the scruff. Scruffing the neck itself is one way to keep the sharp end away from you." He said grabbing the tail helped mitigate the risk of the cat turning and gouging him with its powerful hind legs. Bull said he was very conscious of the fact that if the cat managed to get even one claw into him, it would very quickly escalate and inflict a lot of damage.
Bull said a lot of people have been asking where the leopard came from. Although he said it's not unheard of for wildlife to be seen in Benoni, it is definitely unusual as it's a built-up area. But he said he has a suspicion that this particular cat escaped from an enclosure. "It definitely wasn't as aggressive as other leopards that I've worked with, so I do have personal opinion that it was caged," he said. Bull said the other possibility is that something happened to the young animal's mother, or it went astray.
Bull said he was just relieved that the animal was removed safely and without incident. "It worked out pretty smooth and uneventful and no one got hurt or got gashed in between," he said. He admitted even his family had their reservations, knowing the risks of working with cats. "When I called my wife to tell her I was going to be late because I had to dart a leopard she asked me 'which hospital do you want to go to, Sunninghill or Sandton?,'" he laughed.
Bull said the leopard was taken to an enclosure where the wildlife rehabilitation team would evaluate it and assess when and where they might be able to release it.