April 14th marked one of our saddest moments in our rehabilitation and conservation work as we experienced the exact opposite of our efforts. A driver hit a female Cape Leopard, leaving it to die unattended along the national highway. The body was brought to us by SANPARKS for post-mortem and incineration. On observing the first thing the Tenikwa team noticed was the missing tail. As if death was not enough, a citizen cut off the tail of this beautiful endangered species leaving us with a lot of unanswered questions.
We estimate that this young cape female leopard was about 1 year old. Besides the obvious damage of the accident, she looked to be in good condition with full teeth, good fur condition and body weight. Judging from the injuries it was struck by a vehicle leading to bones fractures. Multiple internal injuries could also be noted. A clear, deliberate cut at the base of the tail indicated that someone purposefully took it off. We can only speculate and hope that it is not for trade, traditional medicine or as a “trophy ornament” but we will probably never know. Cape leopards are often poached for their fur, bones and organs for traditional uses. Cutting off the tail for any reason is illegal.
We try to take something positive from this experience, a lesson, that cape leopards are still out there in numbers in the wild. This situation sets an example that we should be very vigilant on roads and more responsible when using resources from the environment because wildlife depends on it. We hope not to get another heartbreaking call like this one.
We are appealing to all our friends, family, relatives and neighbours to be vigilant on the roads, drive responsibly and give our wildlife the right of way.