What does Kaingo have in common with a strawberry?
Not much it seems. I mean, we serve strawberries with breakfast, sometimes, or you may find one decorating your desert at night.
Let me let you in on a secret: strawberries are not confined to the fruity kind!
Introducing the Kaingo Strawberry leopard!
You read that right! We have a strawberry leopard on Kaingo. Well, it’s not pink, it’s more a pinkish hue with spots quite unlike anything you have ever seen. The rosettes range from light brown to ginger. Other than that, the cat is pure leopard. And he is a very large male.
The formal term for this recessive gene is erythrism. Very few animals have it, at the last count, only eight erythrocytic leopards were found in the total surface area of South Africa. Research on this phenomenon is ongoing, and because of the secrecy of these animals, most strawberry leopards are only seen on camera traps.
The Kaingo male was first seen resting on the rocks at Kaingo Beach a few months ago. As luck would have it, his presence and our locality made it possible to get a few snaps. Our hastily taken photographs showed that something was amiss, but we needed more proof of what we were looking at. It became a game of hide-and-go-seek…taking every possible opportunity to look for an exclusive glimpse of the big cat. With time always on the short side, we set up camera traps along tracks that we know leopard would frequent. Looking for fresh tracks and monitoring size and walking patterns (just like humans, every animal has its unique swagger), our chances of success looked good.
A few weeks passed without success. Other leopards were caught red-handed, walking by the camera traps. A female, young and vibrant, a scarred old veteran of a thousand fights, civet cats, white-tailed mongoose, bushpig, genet cat, honey badger… an ever-increasing number of species and individuals, but not the one we were looking for.
As for all good things in life, we had to wait…and wait we did.
One morning, Jacque, our reserve manager walked into the office like a cat that just had a bowl of cream. He got a clear, identifying camera trap photograph of our very own Strawberry leopard.
Now that we know his walking patterns and the possible size of his territory, our camera traps get a glimpse of him almost weekly.
Our next step is to try and get him a bit more relaxed around vehicles and humans. This is a very long and laborious process; hours sitting in a vehicle hoping that he will pass. Hours more hoping that he will accept our presence and not skulk away in the undergrowth.
For a glimpse, one photograph. One moment in time.
Spent with Kaingo’s strawberry leopard.