The Snare Rescue Story of Ngoye

As told by Panthera’s President, Dr. Luke Hunter.

Ngoye is a leopard with a special story.

She is the reason for two very important conservation programs. In Panthera’s Munyawana Leopard Project she is a central character. I first captured and collared Ngoye as a newly- independent 14 month old in early 2003, one of the first leopards collared in what is now the longest running study on the species. As one of the ‘founders’  of the research, Ngoye shared with us her life story and contributed to the largest existing data set on leopard ecology, one which has resulted in major reforms to trophy hunting policies for leopards in South Africa.

Ngoye is also the reason behind the Kaplan Graduate Awards. I accompanied Panthera’s Chairman, Dr. Thomas Kaplan, on his first field visit to the Munyawana Project back in 2005. There, Tom met Dr. Guy Balme who, at the time, was finishing his PhD on the conservation biology of leopards. Tom, Guy and myself travelled into the field to re-capture Ngoye- now a territorial, fully grown female in her prime- to replace her radio-collar. It was a life changing event for Tom and Guy both. After observing Guy’s field skills, passion and dedication, and seeing an opportunity to sponsor Guy in his goal to complete his PhD, Tom not only offered to support Guy’s study, he also created the Kaplan Awards. Today, Guy is the Director of Panthera’s Lion Program, and more than 60 graduate students from 41 countries have been funded and tutored by the Kaplan Awards. Several Kaplan scholars have been employed by Panthera, while others are on their way to becoming conservation leaders elsewhere around the globe.

Panthera’s Founder & Chairman, Dr. Tom Kaplan, & Lion Program Director, Dr. Guy Balme, change Ngoye’s radio collar in 2005 - Phinda, S. Africa

Besides unknowingly influencing conservation policies and inspiring the next generation of cat scientists, Ngoye has been focused on dutifully raising her next generation. Over the years, she has been a successful mother to six leopard cubs, many of which have gone on to raise their own cubs. Her most recent litter, of two cubs, was born in the Fall of 2011.

But this is where the story turns.

In December last year, my student Julien Fattebert (a Kaplan Scholar) spotted Ngoye in trouble. She was limping badly and bleeding heavily from her left paw. Her cubs, 6 months old at the time, were nowhere to be seen.  Panthera’s Leopard Program Coordinator, Tristan Dickerson made the decision to intervene and anesthetize her. Our team discovered that she had become entangled in a wire snare. It had cut deeply into her paw, cutting off circulation and causing massive damage to the tissue. In the desperate fight for her own survival and with all sensation to the paw lost, Ngoye chewed off three of her toes to set herself free.

To save Ngoye’s paw, and her life, our team cleaned her wounds and amputated the exposed bones. Two weeks later, Veterinarian Dr. Trevor Viljoen removed additional dead bone from Ngoye’s paw. All the while, Ngoye remained in the wild but Panthera’s team provided her with food and water for over a month, knowing that she would not be able to hunt while she healed.

After Ngoye’s second surgery, the data collected from her GPS collar indicated that she was slowly beginning to move throughout her home range and was hunting independently. Monitoring her with camera-traps revealed that Ngoye’s body condition had vastly improved and fleeting sightings showed her limp almost entirely gone. But sadly, her cubs were never spotted again; we believe that the snare impacted Ngoye’s ability to feed, protect and fend for her cubs. While we were able to save Ngoye’s life, the snare cut short the lives of her two cubs.

Several months have passed now, and the field updates are encouraging – Ngoye is still recovering but feeding herself entirely, and she was able to remain in the wild, where she belongs. We will continue monitoring her recovery, and we are hopeful she will soon have another litter. With luck, she will live out her life naturally raising cubs, protecting her territory, and dealing only with natural threats- not man-made ones- that exist in the South African bush.

Ngoye’s story would have been very different, had she not been part of our study, so we were able to find her in time and intervene. Sadly, she is the exception. Thousands of other snare victims around the world are not so lucky.

Help protect Ngoye and other wild cats from poachers and their snares by donating to Panthera’s Remove a Snare campaign.

Thanks to a generous donor, the next $25,000 raised for the 'Remove a Snare' campaign will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling the value of your gift and helping Panthera reach our goal of raising $50,000!

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Visit Panthera’s Remove a Snare Campaign Page.