A close encounter with a leopard in daytime has been too close for comfort for a family living in an eastern suburb of George, bordering a forest.
After finding 13 of her egg-laying chickens dead in their coop a fortnight ago, Mrs S, who does not want to be identified, made a concerted effort to investigate the cause of death.
The chickens had sharp incisions on their bodies, as if struck by the sharp claws of a large animal. They also showed signs of having been crushed to death and their entrails protruded from their backs, but the predator did not eat the chickens. After comparing the footprints near the chicken enclosure with textbook diagrams, Mrs S is convinced that their nocturnal, usually shy visitor, was a leopard.
"Don't get me wrong, in a way we are overawed. To think we live so close to nature that one can have a leopard strolling onto your property!" Mrs S is not angered by the loss of the chickens either. "We do not want an inordinate amount of fuss for fear of attracting people who may want to hunt and kill the leopard. For years we have known about the studies being done by NMMU in the Saasveld/Seven Passes Road area, where a leopard has been tagged. So we accept that leopard sightings are not totally unusual."
Her son has actually seen the leopard. Walking in the garden he was surprised to notice the Cypress shrubs move violently. "Instinct told me that the leopard was there and the dogs barked hysterically. Luckily I remembered that one should not run otherwise you risk arousing its hunting instinct. So I slowly backed off, but as soon as I got near our verandah, I could not help but run like crazy."
A few minutes later, when he looked back, he spotted the leopard for an instant before it ran off into the nearby forest. The family has now adjusted their lifestyle and are careful about their movements in the garden.
The remnants of a porcupine made them realise that the leopard had been prowling about more than once and neighbours have all reported sightings over the past weeks.
CapeNature's Barend Le Roux, who has made a study of leopard behaviour patterns, said it is highly unlikely for leopards to kill and eat chickens. It was also unusual for leopards to be spotted during the day and to be seen in the same spot close to a built-up area.
Le Roux confirmed that his department had handed over their findings to a prosecutor who has to decide whether to lay criminal charges against a local farmer who killed a leopard in a gin trap a year ago. It is illegal to trap leopards without a permit.
* 'n Luiperd was vermoedelik verantwoordelik vir die dood van 13 hoenders in hulle hokke, by 'n woning aan die oostelike grense van George. Die luiperd is 'n dag na die voorval deur die familie se tienerseun gewaar voordat die dier in die nabygeleë inheemse bosse in die rigting van die berg verdwyn het.