DREAM DIARIES – CHAPTER ONE:
Leaping back into the wild: Finfoot Lake Reserve welcomes first leopard – The team at Finfoot Lake Reserve recently celebrated the arrival of their newest celebrity: a leopard rescued from an illegal gin trap near the Botswanan border.
Located within the Elands River Reserve in the North West Province, the addition of their first big cat on the newly acquired neighbouring property is the next step in expanding the reserve into a conservation haven for larger game and endangered species.
“On the 6th of August, I received a call from Vasti Botha, Problem Animal Specialist at the North West Department of Economic Development Environment Conservation and Tourism (DEDECT),” says Sarel van der Westhuizen, General Manager of Finfoot.
“She informed me about a young male leopard considered a Damage-Causing Animal (DCA) in need of medical attention and asked if we would be willing to take him in exchange for funding his vet costs and subsequent rehabilitation.”
After fast negations with Brent Dickson, the Director of Dream Hotels and Resorts under which Finfoot operates, the team agreed to begin the release process. Arrangements were made to transport the leopard to the Old Chapel Veterinary Clinic in Pretoria for treatment by veterinary specialist, Peter Caldwell.
“Doctor Caldwell took great care of the young cat who was in good health overall, despite everything he had endured. Unfortunately, we did have to remove one toe from his left metatarsal and three toes from his right metacarpal.”
While the leopard was ensnared in the trap, he had become distressed and started gnawing on his paws to break free.
“He may have lost a few toes, but that doesn’t make him any less of a leopard and a majestic predator at that. Tracking him is going to be very interesting, as we’ll always be able to recognise his unique tracks!”
Van der Westhuizen and his team also decided to fit the leopard with a global positioning satellite (GPS) collar according to DCA regulations and to monitor his progress after his release.
“As you can imagine, fitting a tracking collar on a wild feline is quite an expensive feat. However, while we were still making plans to get the funds, I received a phone call which made me very happy. As it turns out, John Power, a Terrestrial Ecologist at DEDECT, had contacted the incredible team at Wildlife ACT Innovations who agreed to sponsor the collar for us!”
On the 1st of September, the Finfoot team arrived at the Old Chapel Vet Clinic to fit the new collar, take some final measurements, and come face to face with their spotted star for the first time.
After receiving a clean bill of health, the leopard was transported to the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre at De Wildt for some extended recovery time in a larger enclosure before his final release back into the wild. On the 15th of September, Vasti Botha from DETECT delivered him safely to Finfoot.
“The moment the door opened, he had a quick look around before leaping out of the crate. He took a sharp right turn and bolted off into the open bush. There was an immense sense of relief. It’s been such a difficult year for everyone, but with this, we felt like, wow, we’ve achieved something really special!”
Van der Westhuizen explains that his team at Finfoot is firmly committed to conserving endangered species.
“The natural environment is on our side, and there are sufficient resources for them to thrive The recent purchase of the neighbouring farm provides enough space to accommodate our long term plan to introduce lions and other big game whilst still maintaining areas on the reserve for guests to roam freely and safely without guided supervision.”
He also maintains that the rehabilitation and release of the young leopard (yet to be named) would not have been possible without everyone coming together to assist and support each other.
“Special thanks must be given to Dream Hotels and Resorts and the streamlined coordination between DEDECT, the Old Chapel Vet Clinic, and the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre,” he says.
“The local conservation community has always consisted of exceptional leaders – individuals who have dedicated their lives to protecting, serving, and celebrating our wildlife, and this was an example of that.
“This is a story of sheer resilience and determination. It shows how we can all find connection through positive actions and working together towards a common goal. It’s also a reminder for all of us of the priceless value of life, of one more day, of hope,” he concludes.