The team jumps into a helicopter equipped with a VHF tracking device that is able to pick up signals from the leopard’s collar. The plan is to find and then dart the cat from the chopper. This is no easy task, and takes very, very steady hands and extremely cool heads.

The leopard is soon spotted in the tall grass so the chopper tracks it, and the team continues in the back-up truck. Once a successful darting from the helicopter is confirmed, the ground team moves in to pick up the male cat. This is no simple task as the cat has fallen asleep inside the tightly packed branches of a tree. What follows is an extremely delicate operation. The team needs to clear the branches enough to make a passage to the leopard, then free him from the tree without waking him up.

The rescue operation is a success and the male leopard is soon on his way to Zinave National Park, flying first class on the lap of Dr João Almeida.

The leopards will be introduced into the 18 600 ha sanctuary established within the park. The woodlands of Zinave are an ideal location for leopards, providing them with ample opportunities to engage in their trademark style of hunting – the ambush. The successful rewilding of medium-sized antelope means that the sanctuary alone can support around ten leopards. By introducing apex predators like these leopard into Zinave National Park, helps to balance the ecosystem, keeping prey animal numbers in check and keeping vitality in the genetics of the remaining population. Once large enough populations of leopards’ preferred prey, such as impala, are restored to the full range of the 480 000 ha park, the ecosystem there could sustain over 200 leopards.