Over many days, by using baiting, ancient tracking techniques and modern technology in the form of camera traps the team tracks down the elusive leopards.
Predominantly nocturnal, solitary animals, it must be remembered that these are wild animals that have had little if any previous interaction with humans. Living as they do in these wilderness areas, being tracked by the translocation team means the leopard will often retreat up into trees to seek sanctuary. They are masters of disguise. Their coats, covered in dark, irregular spots called rosettes, form the perfect camouflage in the trees, making them almost impossible to see. Especially at night.
However, when the young male leopard hides in a tree, it presents the perfect opportunity for the team to attempt a darting. These are highly trained individuals with a lot of experience in the bush, but dealing with wild animals in not an exact science. They are unpredictable creatures. If they miss the first shot, the animal will probably disappear off into the night. It will learn from the experience, which will only make it more difficult to capture it a second time.
The shot is a good one. The first leopard, a young male, jumps from the tree to the ground. The team moves in. They swiftly clean up the leopard, gently pull on an eye-mask to reduce any form of stimulus to manage his stress levels and make sure he doesn’t wake, and then carry him to a truck waiting in the bush.
It takes almost ten days to find and capture the correct two leopards in Karingani. Each one is carefully monitored, a tracking collar is fitted around its neck, and then carefully placed inside its own secure crate before being released into temporary holding bomas while awaiting transport to Zinave National Park. These leopards will form part of the founder population of leopard in Zinave National Park, where they will play their part in restoring balance to that ecosystem. They will also be a big drawcard for tourism to the park, which will boost revenue and create more livelihood opportunities for communities living in that area.