Zen was caught on a neighbouring farm. The following day a hunter would have come to shoot this beautiful leopard. It was as if Zen sensed what was happening as he, contrary to normal behaviour, caused quite a racket in the holding cage, especially when he heard people passing by. It was almost like a shout for help! Usually a leopard will be quiet when danger is near, especially when it concerns people. Fortunately the people, who heard the leopard, ran to Shayamanzi’s staff telling them about the leopard roars near the river. Petrus phoned me and asked me what we should do. I phoned the neighbour and pleaded with him to save the leopard’s life. I promised to provide the leopard with a GPS collar in order to follow his movements and to keep the neighbour up to date. He agreed.
Our family and my parents drove to Shayamanzi with a GPS collar to meet the vet and to release the male leopard on Shayamanzi. As with all the leopards we have handled, this leopard’s name started with a Z and was named after our son, Bennert. We named the male leopard “Zen”.
Zen’s behaviour was frightening when we neared the cage. He was convinced we were coming to kill him. I kept him busy at the front and took photographs. His head was bloodied by bumping against the cage. Our vet, Dr. Neil Kriel, carefully moved to the back and anesthetised him. A collar was put around his neck, photos were taken and he was carefully placed on the bakkie and transported to Shayamanzi. Zen was put in a peaceful area between trees and grass next to the Fish Eagle Dam. Dr. Kriel gave the recovery injection and Zen woke quite fast, looking around confusedly. I was quite close to him when he stood up and vanished among the long grass and shrubs next to the dam.
A few days after Zen had been released, a few of Shayamanzi’s staff walked past the area where Zen had been captured. Suddenly Zen was there. He appeared close to them among the long grass and stared at them.
Did he want to take revenge or did he want to thank the people of Shayamanzi for saving and releasing him? In a few seconds Zen could have killed all of them, but he didn’t. It is as if he thanked them, turned around and ran towards his new freedom. Zen wandered around the area for a number of weeks, according to the information from the GPS collar, after which he departed to find a new home in the mountains and rivers far removed from Shayamanzi. The satellite and cell phone signals aren’t very efficient in the mountains and ravines, and we have never heard from Zen again.
Many lessons can be learnt from Zen’s behaviour. Zen had the power and strength to kill all of Shayamanzi’s staff after what he had gone through. However, he showed restraint and only stared at them, quietly and without any roars. A few of them started to run towards the road, which is a sign for the leopard that you have given up and acknowledge that he is the stronger and the winner of the conflict. A leopard sees one who flees as prey, hunts him and kills him. Zen did not do this. He probably decided that Shayamanzi’s people, who carried him in his cage, were there when he was released and whom, after release, he could watch from among the bushes, were not in conflict with him.
The lesson simply is that to lose your temper and start a fight to death, can be defused by calmly summarising the situation, considering options and choices and ending the “fight” as winner by being the least and walking away. You leave the other party with disbelief, still frightened and with a world of respect for your behaviour. Without a word (roar), those who saw this behaviour will think about it and tell others about it, just as I am now telling it to readers with pen on paper.