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People and Leopards

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Business lessons : Leopard survival

A discussion of leopards elicits several interesting reactions. Hunters, game farmers, conservationists, the public, academics, business people, etc all have different opinions, based on either facts or perceptions. However, most of them agree that leopards are beautiful animals.

In contrast to the other four of the Big Five (elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, and lion) the leopard is a mysterious, secretive, lone stalker of the night. For most people the world of leopards is an unknown. Although an endangered animal, the leopard succeeds to survive in deserts, forests, in the mountains and snow-covered landscapes and even around cities.

Among others, it is this survival ability that makes leopards an interesting icon to business people, who are also daily competing for survival. This survival ability of leopards is but one of their many characteristics that are of value to humans, especially business people. Dealing with risks, strategic thinking, patience, respect, perseverance, market (territory) knowledge, utilising competitive advantages, instinct and prioritising are a few of leopards´ specialist characteristics which can serve as excellent examples to business people and leaders. It might be a sensible and productive business decision to associate your business thoughts with leopards. 


Zaza and sister Ziana

Zaza and her sister Ziana were approximately 11 years old when they arrived at Shayamanzi on 4 March 2007. Zaza and Ziana grew up together in a camp on a farm after their mother had died. The chances of young leopards surviving alone in the wild are slim. A game farmer´s decision to give these two young sisters a chance to live in their own camp was the start of an interesting story. Due to the human care and attention, the two sisters became tame. Therefore, it would not be possible to return them to the wild again. When the farm was sold the two sisters were relatively old (in the wild leopards can live for 12 to 15 years, and in good caring conditions up to 15 to 20 years). With the sale of the farm it was initially thought to put the two sisters down and not to transfer the keeping permit to the new owner.

Deon Celliers, well-known in conservation circles, knew about the leopard project at Shayamanzi and contacted me to ask whether we could look after the sisters until their death. We agreed and the two sisters were given another chance on life at Shayamanzi. They crossed another hurdle in their fight for survival. Since 4 March 2007 there have been a number of threats to their survival. 

There were situations with snakes, baboons, bad weather, extreme cold and rain, efforts to escape, serious fights between the two sisters, infections, wild leopards around the camps, electrical fences, nerve racking moments with the male, Zoy, tooth infections and an injured facial nerve, and me landing up in one of their camps – they were not shy of humans, but definitely not tame any more.

Time and time again Zaza and Ziana survived these crises. Time and time again I filmed these events and tried to learn something from these crises, something that could help me grow as a human being, as a business person.


Lessons learnt from Zaza, Ziana and other leopards at Shayamanzi

  1. Adapt to new environments, new bosses, new challenges, new dangers and risk - adapt or die.
    The two sisters came from the bush and now live on top of the mountains.
  2. Learn to know your friends and enemies.
    They immediately come to the fence when Petrus or I feed them.
  3. Trust your instinct/gut feel.
    Even though they don´t catch their prey themselves, they trust that they can eat what we give them.
  4. Look after yourself.
    After each meal they lick/clean themselves.
  5. Determine your territory.
    Find your niche in the business world, focus on it and exploit it.
  6. Be realistic about your chances.
    Maybe they could jump over the electric fence or they could get entangled and be shocked to death.
  7. Dream.
    Those eyes, following a hare or buck outside the camp, speak of a major dream.
  8. Sleep enough, but keep one sense awake.
    They lie down for the larger part of the day, but at the slightest noise they immediately react.
  9. Move silently.
    Their survival depends on a successful moment of surprise.
  10. Keep your eyes open, especially at night.
    Leopards´ eyesight is six times better at night than those of humans. The night holds many opportunities, as most business persons are then resting at home.
  11. Respect your opponents.
    The two sisters regularly (once a month) had a skirmish with one another, seldom with detrimental effects.
  12. Become a part of the environment.
    They are well camouflaged. They are watching you, you are not watching them.
  13. Take calculated risks.
    Even leopards enter the water to catch a fish…it could turn out to be a crocodile.
  14. Accept the responsibility for your decisions/skirmishes.
    Once the two sisters were at each other. Zaza landed in hospital with a tooth infection and an injured facial nerve.
  15. Keep your eye on the ball/meat.
    Even in rough terrain they do not take their eye from the meat, not even if thrown high and far into the camp.
  16. Eat healthily.
    They would not easily eat liver or gall-bladder. These contain more of the body‘s waste products
  17. Exercise regularly.
    Walk, jump, roll, climb a tree, storm one another in play, chase a bird...
  18. Keep your secrets to yourself.
    If humans knew all their secrets, they would probably be extinct by now.
  19. Be patient and await your chance.
    They will stalk long distances and wait for hours on end for the right moment to attack.
  20. Be tolerant.
    The sun may shine on everyone. The whole of the forest and all the prey do not belong to one leopard.
  21. When you take a decision, execute it with confidence.
    They not only hunt and bite their prey, they run or hit them off their feet.
  22. Be mysterious, have the x-factor.
    Remain unpredictable, be different, maintain your uniqueness and always be creative.
  23. Relax regularly.
    Although they often relax, they usually lie high on a rock or in a tree in order to spot every opportunity.
  24. They have a plan for each day, a goal.
    Even if they merely walk within their territory, they remain goal orientated and investigative.
  25. Each one is unique with a unique character, behavioural pattern and competitive advantages.
    Each leopard´s spots differ, they react differently in similar circumstances and immediately utilise their strong points, e.g. jumping, running, biting, scratching, attacking, etc.
  26. They don´t give up, they persevere.
    Leopards hunt alone. Should they give up, they would die.
  27. They believe in themselves and know their capabilities.
    Nobody helps them when hunting and they won´t easily catch something they aren´t able to overpower.
  28. When executing their plans they are focused, fast, silent, determined, and effective and have brilliant timing.
    To come within 10 metres from your prey, it is non-negotiable that you should have all these abilities, be able to apply them simultaneously and above all have perfect timing. For example, an impala would look up, or down, or sideways to another ram or ewe.... split seconds that mean the end of the prey and the survival of the leopard.


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