Just before Zizi could be released, she had two cubs while in captivity. The two cubs remained in captivity with her for a few months for the cubs to grow stronger. On a rainy day they were released at Shayamanzi. Zizi, the mother, has a GPS collar, while a small radio transmitter is fastened to the collar of each cub. One of our film team members comes too close to one of the cubs and Zizi hits the cub away with one paw and gets between the cubs in the cage and the person. Later, when they were released, the mother was very hesitant to get out of the cage and to leave her cubs alone. Everyone was sitting patiently in the cars, waiting for Zizi to leave the cage. In a split second she stormed out of the cage and headed for the car in which Issie was. The window was slightly open to prevent the windows from fogging up in the rainy weather. Martin closed the window just in time. At the last second Zizi turned and stormed to the front of the car. The window on the other side was fortunately also closed. She vanished between the rocks and trees around the Panthera view point. Her two cubs remained behind in the cage. We positioned an infra red video camera and a still camera against a tree. Everyone stood around, giving opinions about the survival chances of Zizi and her two cubs. The chances of survival for the two cubs were poor as they had never seen anything else than the four walls of a small brick oom. What we have photographed later, the information from the GPS collar and what happened in the following weeks and months, have surprised everyone. Prof J du P Bothma, our scientist who does video interpretations, said that we have photographed quite a few firsts and up to now, unknown behaviour. Valuable secrets of these mysterious cats were photographed by our cameras.
The general feeling was that the cubs, coming from a brick room, would not be able to climb trees. Well, they both clambered around in the trees as if they were jungle gyms. Zizi, against the expectations, later came back for her cubs. The one, Zandi, followed her through the border fence, but there their paths separated. The mother, according to the data from the GPS collar, fled many kilometres further into the mountains to a reserve in Northern Limpopo. The other daughter, Zel, remained at Shayamanzi but if she would survive was an open question. The owner of the Shelanti reserve was happy with the female leopard on his farm and once saw her from a helicopter where she was hiding among the rocky outcrops. According to the GPS collar, Zizi remained quite a while on the leopard-friendly reserve, before she moved on again. Like the most of the leopards we have released at Shayamanzi, she never returned and she was forever separated from her two cubs. If we had had a large enough camp at that stage, we could have released Zizi and her two daughters there, where they would probably have lived together for many years to come. Wild leopards in camps in the Bushveld, with its thousands of free-roaming leopards, have never really been a survival option that game farmers have used.
Leopard camps with outcrops, trees, stones, holes, shrubs and water which simulate the natural environment of the leopard, are probably one of the best options that remain to conserve the endangered leopards. Of course the first option would be to keep them wild and free-roaming. Free-roaming on game farms means that nobody sees them and thus has little tourism value for game farmers. As soon as they obtain a tourism value, they will have a better chance of survival. Zizi, Zel and Zandi are three beautiful female cats and it is sad to think that these great genes are just lost.
Fortunately the cameras help to capture some great moments.