Photograph of a leopard

Leopard Caught by Mistake at Hanchi!

Hyena Trap Report

Hyenas are a constant night-time fixture on Ridgeway Farm (the reserve that the Hanchi Project operates on). Students and staff hear their whooping calls most nights!

All was fine and life at camp went on as usual until six waterbuck were introduced onto the reserve; it was then that the trouble began! The night after the waterbuck were brought in a hyena attacked and pursued a waterbuck into the electric perimeter fence, causing much damage to the fence. The owner of the reserve issued a warrant of arrest for the offending Hyena!

Staff and students from the Moholoholo rehabilitation centre arrived the following day with a metal cage trap and warthog (dead) as bait. The trap was concealed in a bush not far from a small dam named Otter dam. Here it lay for a week… Every morning students from Hanchi would check the trap, and every morning the trap remained empty! As one can imagine, the warthog was beginning to smell.

One Sunday morning a routine check revealed evidence of leopard activity, there were the tell tale paw prints and a full half of the warthog had been devoured, yet the trap remained unsprung. The morning of Tuesday 4th Sept dawned as all other mornings and who could have imagined what the day would turn into and what the routine morning trap check would reveal. The trap had been sprung and an animal had been caught. However it was not a Hyena. It appeared that the leopard had returned for seconds!

Excitement spread through the camp like wildfire! The Hanchi Project shares the camp with the cultural program, Nholwasi, and they were hastily brought back to camp from the school to help. We headed off to the gate where a group of people including staff and students from Moholoholo, staff from a neighboring reserve and leopard specialists, were waiting.

When everyone had been briefed a convoy set off through the bush to the trap site. Upon reaching the entrapped leopard, there ensued a bustle of activity, everyone knowing their purpose and conscientiously going about fulfilling it. The leopard was darted with a drug that rendered it unconscious. He was removed from the cage, weighed, measured, given antibiotics as a precaution against infection due to the darting, and collared with a GPS fitted collar so that he could be tracked and monitored as a part of an ongoing long-term study on leopard’s in the area.

Once the work was completed everyone returned to their respective reserves and we, the students on the Hanchi and Nholwasi projects, were given the task of watching over the still unconscious leopard…

We sat quietly and were rewarded by seeing this amazing animal slowly regaining consciousness and eventually wobbling off on still unsteady paws into the bush. The collar will give the leopard a recognizable identity and will allow those who monitor him to discern his territory and habits of movement. It was unanimously agreed that the leopard “incident” was very exciting! In the excitement it was almost forgotten that the hyena is still out there somewhere!

Note: Spotted Hyena, Crocuta crocuta, are still registered as vermin in South Africa and a landowner can therefore remove them by trapping, poisoning or hunting. As they are perceived to have no real commercial value they are usually destroyed as darting and transporting is very costly. The presence of the volunteers and the involvement that ACE has at the reserve and with Moholoholo Rehab centre was the factor that influenced the decision to try and capture and move the Hyena as opposed to simply killing it. One more example of how ACE volunteers are helping in the fight to conserve wildlife.

By Matthew Doyle and Martin