News24

Panjo search widens

2010-07-28 19:04

Johannesburg - Game trackers with sniffer dogs will join the growing team searching for Panjo, the missing hand-reared tiger, on Wednesday, as his owner Goosey Fernandes's hopes rise that he will be found soon.

"There are sniffer dogs coming here, to take scent from Panjo's blankets and his mattress," said Fernandes as the search for Panjo continued around Verena in Mpumalanga.

The latest team was flying in from a game farm near Skukuza in Mpumalanga, said Fernandes, sounding overwhelmed by the support he and his family had received since their plea on Eyewitness News on Tuesday for help in finding the feline.

According to www.worldwildlife.org, sniffer dogs had been trained to track the dung of tigers and other large carnivores in Cambodia. The dung is sent to a laboratory for analysis which forms part of habit and population studies of the elusive creatures.

House pet

"I can't understand how people are helping me. I can't explain it. Private people are pitching in," said the Springs garage owner who has cried on air over the loss of Panjo.

The big cat was treated as a house pet, with Fernandes saying he sometimes slept on the bed.

People were distributing pictures of him, a supermarket had given them food while they continued their search, and people were calling him constantly to report sightings. Some were false alarms, with a few hoaxes thrown in.

Their latest lead followed a tip off, and after rushing to the scene, they found what could be two of Panjo's tracks.

Fernandes said he had started receiving calls from people demanding money as compensation for their animals, they said were eaten by the feline, which was used to getting food from his owner.

'Paperwork in order'

"One guy said, 'your cat just killed three of my cows. I have got him and I want R10 000'," said Fernandes. "I told him, 'I will give you R20 000, just keep him there', but then I can't get hold of him again.

"I've been walking into the koppies shouting for my cat," said Fernandes.

Dries Pienaar, an official at the Mpumalanga Parks Board, said reports of attacks on cattle were usually good clues in tracking down a predator, but so far they had received no such reports.

Contrary to Fernandes' insistence that he has "all the paperwork" for Panjo to be in the province, Pienaar said they could not find such a record.

This meant that if Panjo was captured in Mpumalanga, he may be confiscated and a court case could follow.

But said Fernandes: "There is nothing to that. I have permits for my tiger, (with the) Mpumalanga Parks Board.

"I have got four tigers, never mind one."

Panjo, he said, came from a breeder in Zeerust.

"They will never take that cat away from me," he said.

Appetite


Reaction to Panjo's disappearance has been mixed.

While he has captured the imagination of the young and old, Fernandes's keeping of the tiger out of its natural habitat has drawn criticism from some quarters.

Others have expressed fears that he may attack a person, having gone since at least Monday evening without the food his humans give him, which reportedly includes morsels like impala leg.

When News24 asked Fernandes if he was worried about Panjo getting hungry, he said that was not "a crisis".

"He was very well fed," said Fernandes adding that Panjo could go for up to three days with no food and still be fine.

"I've got nice pieces of meat for him when we find him," he said.