Sometimes, we need to see an animal locked up inside a cage to fully understand and appreciate the importance of its’ freedom.
It might still look like a leopard; the fur is still there with the characteristic black-painted rosettes, the stare is still fierce, and trust me, in this case it’s hateful with good reason. The mouth is bloody, and the skin on the nose has been worn off. The claws have been broken during a long night spent gnawing, clawing and wrestling to break free, but man-made steel cages can withstand more than the people that welded them.
He’s a troublemaker, this one. He’s killing livestock as if it’s going out of fashion. He’s given the farmer gray hairs and sleepless nights, and standing as an in-betweener with nature conservation on one side and a pissed off and financially challenged farmer on the other, it’s difficult to know what the best solution is.
The only thing I do know, is that locked up inside a cage is not the answer, and that includes all those small enclosures at so-called rehabilitation establishments as well. We cannot conserve wildlife populations on cans. I am all about wild populations, and believe that a leopard stops being a leopard the moment he is deprived of pulling his prey up in a tree. The second he is prohibited from stalking in the bush and selecting his own dinner. The instance he is no longer free to roam.
I firmly believe that a cheetah with three legs, that sits in the front seat of a farm pick-up with its’ head out of the window to feel the breeze and get the feeling of speed, is no longer a cheetah.
And a lion put in a small enclosure close to the restaurant at the safari lodge to provide tourists with feeding excitement while they’re tasting their wine and nibbling their own carpaccio, is no longer a lion.
They might still look the part. But they have been deprived of everything that truly matter to them.
In a cage like this, life becomes meaningless.
I feel obligated to mention that this leopard was set free. He was literally saved by the bell (in the form of an iPhone ringtone), despite the farmer’s very explicit wishes and vocal curses.