SA leopards moved to Malawi

2011-12-30 14:21

Blantyre - "The leopards won't like that!" jokes ranger Fyson Suwedi as his pick-up truck rattles along the bumpy road that leads from the airstrip to Malawi's Majete Wildlife Reserve.

In the back are the two special passengers, transported by plane from South Africa across 1 000 kilometres on a mission to repopulate the Majete.

The leopards - a male and a female - have behaved during the journey to their new home, where they will hopefully reproduce.

Proclaimed in 1955, the Majete reserve suffered extensive poaching which severely depleted its animals' numbers.

But a conservation group took over management after a 2003 deal with Malawi's government. Since then over 2 500 antelopes, elephants, buffalo and rhino have been reintroduced.

The leopards were caught in rural South Africa after their hunting spree wreaked havoc on farmers' ostrich populations.


At the Moholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in northeast South Africa, where the leopards spent a few weeks before the move to Malawi, they are quickly sedated, inoculated against rabies and cat flu, washed, and put into cages on the morning of their journey.

A few volunteers from the centre - actually tourists who pay to work with the exotic animals - are helping the operation.

"The male is 22 months old and the female 17. Unfortunately we'll have to wait a year or two before they can reproduce," explains Brian Jones, the wildlife rehab's director.

But head veterinarian Andre Uys believes the felines are older, as much as five years for the male and two for his future companion.

After the leopards are moved into their separate cages the journey can finally begin. The first stop is a nearby airfield, then an hour's flight to Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, where the last administrative details need to be tied up.

All the paperwork however was not ready on time even though the African Parks Network, the non-governmental organisation that runs Majete, started the process seven months ago.

"We cannot afford any further delay because the animals are going to cook (in their cages). It's hot in here," an impatient Uys says on his cellphone.

A whole range of documents are needed to transport the animals out of the country: both veterinary services and customs' environmental protection management have to authorise the move.

Then the operation needs the stamp of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), the international animal trade policing body.

Satellite signals

But finally the Cessna airplane takes off from Mbombela, only four hours behind schedule. Flying over western Mozambique, three-and-a-half-hours later it touches down on the private runway of a sugar factory near Majete.

The last papers are signed, and the two cages are loaded onto the pick-up truck for the last stretch to the reserve.

The leopards have been awake for a while now and are calm, though they growl at each other from time to time.

"They shouldn't have been fed yesterday. They should have been starving to travel," says Uys regretfully.

Usually leopards respond better to the drugs if they do not eat before travelling, but these two had a rabbit "snack" for dinner the previous evening.

At the reserve the endangered big cats are freed at last, but kept apart in enclosures.

"They are under stress. If they were released together now they would kill each other," says Uys.

This will be their home until mid-January while they recuperate from the journey. When they are set free after that, they'll probably hang around the area for another week, then take off to explore the 700 square kilometres of their new domain.

Each wears a collar that sends a satellite signal so park officials can track their movements.

Perhaps they will meet the other two leopards from South Africa that were released in October.

And more big cats are coming. Next July, lions will arrive in Malawi to do their bit to repopulate the Majete reserve.

  • Alva - 2011-12-30 17:26

    I have a problem with re-filling depleted game reserves due to poaching. Are we sending more animals to be poached? The only possible good thing here is to create gene pool diversity. For the rest it gets my 'thumb down'!

  • Gerda - 2011-12-31 10:10

    The reason why the reserve was depleted is because of poaching. What changed in the meantime? You REALLY think locals will stop killing when they are hungry or looking for skins? I pity all these animals because it will be just matter of time before they will poach again.

  • pam.knowles1 - 2011-12-31 17:25

    At first I thought this was a very good idea then read the comments and I must agree, nothing will stop the poaching. Strict laws must be enforced, we love the animals so much and hate to see them suffer, because people are not held accountable for their terrible actions.

  • Hoff.Lynn - 2012-01-02 02:33

    I hope it all works out well for these two beautiful creatures! But as always, its a worry with all our wildlife, here in SA and across to other african countries, those lowlife good for nothing cruel and greedy people poaching our beautiful animals... I have NO sympathy when they get shot or wounded, the more that happens, the better. These people have no rights, they do not deserve to live. Take a life, be it an animal or human, loose your life!

  • Comrade - 2012-01-02 09:58

    SHAME !!! .. thats a fate worse than death!

  • ailsa.j.loudon - 2012-01-02 16:40

    Is there no safe place on earth for our beautiful creatures? Unfortunately the animals will probably be poached in Malawi, but they likely would have been killed by angry farmers here!!

  • Sean - 2012-01-02 22:34

    These poor leopards don't realise that they are being led to the gallows..... !? Their beautiful skins will soon be hanging on some tribal leader's shoulders - is this what we are doing to our majestic animals, feeding them to the desperate....? Like most bloggers, I disagree with this relocation if there is insufficient law enforcement and reliable park ranging set in place!

  • Dianna - 2012-01-03 09:14

    You people are So negative ! The article says ..........."But a conservation group took over management after a 2003 deal with Malawi's government. Since then over 2 500 antelopes, elephants, buffalo and rhino have been reintroduced." Lets just hope that the conservation group referred to are against hunting ............ and good at anti-poaching . I do feel aggrieved that we have to send our beautiful wildlife out of our country "for their own protection "?! Doesn't make sense.

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