Sunday, October 25, 2020

To hell and back

The last thing Kgari Dick Mogolole ever saw with his naked eyes was his life flashing past and a leopard hunched over his prostrate frame. “It pinned me down to the ground that was trembling from its ferocious growl. I could feel its breath on my face as it went for my eyes”, remembers the 61 year old Ranyane resident who is now partially blind and has to rely on special spectacles to grope his way around.

We are seated on a bench at the Princess Marina Hospital parking lot. Mogolole whose body has been reduced to a roadmap of scars from the near death encounter with the leopard is re-living the moment he literally snatched his life from the gnashing jaws of certain death.

It’s almost a year since the gruesome nightmare, but time has not exorcised the trauma of the ordeal. He still closes his eyes as if to shut out the monstrous apparition whenever he recounts the gruesome ordeal.

It started out like a normal working day for the former veterinary officer in the Ministry of Agriculture who was based in Ghanzi District. He was part of a group of three men assigned into the veldt on horseback to find out why vultures were hovering over a thicket; a few kilometres from an Artificial Insemination (AI) camp located between Ranyane and Ncojane.

“Our supervisor at AI had instructed us to go and find out what the vultures were after,” says Mogolole explaining the decision which would nearly cost him his life.

“We suspected that one of the cows from the SI could have been killed by lions,” he says half closing his eyes for the umpteenth time As they approached the thicket where they had spotted vultures, they noticed two dark objects slung from branches of two different trees facing each other. From a distance, they could not make out what the dark objects were. As the three men peered at the objects they discovered that a leopard had cut a calf into two parts and hanged them from two branches of the two different trees.

“We discovered fresh tracks of the leopard. Then we decided to go back to the AI camp to give our supervisor feedback. With the experience we had, we also decided not to use the path we had used before because we knew that the leopard could be lying somewhere in wait,” says Mogolole.

They also suspected that the leopard could be lurking between the two trees from where two parts of the calf were slung. “We also avoided using the same path we had used because the veldt was so thick one could not defend himself easily from an attacking leopard” he remembers.

Certain that they were safe from an unexpected attack, Mogolole led his team back to the AI camp. Minutes into the new path, all hell broke loose. The leopard was lying in wait for them; now at a different spot from the path they had used before. It spotted him first. Before he could say “leopard”, the big cat leapt forward and pounced on him.

“I was attacked right in front of my colleagues. When the leopard clawed at my face, they could have driven it off with a knife or clubs but they ran for their dear lives. We had done nothing to provoke the ferocious feline. I almost fainted, but something inside helped my fight off the murderous feline”, he says.

The leopard struck him with its claws on the neck and knocked him to the ground from the horse’s back. While on the ground, the animal was now gunning for his eyes. He had fallen with a thud facing the ground.

“It pinned me to the ground and was roaring at the same time. I was unable to get up as the leopard sunk its claws on my back,” remembers Mogolole.

It was a life and death struggle alone with the big cat in the shrubs. “I could hear its breath on my face as it went for my eyes. I had shielded them from its claws by facing the ground. In the end I faced it and looked it in the eye. I rained blows on it aimlessly because by now my eyes were covered in blood. I was bleeding profusely,” he recalls.

He landed a blow into the animal’s mouth and it responded by literally biting off his finger, and spitting the piece on the ground. As he recounts the incident with traces of horror in his voice, Mogolole stretches out his hand to reveal a stump left when the leopard bit off his finger.

The leopard had sunk its claws on his neck and scalp. The injuries to both eyes are healing every day. But Mogolole has lost vision in both eyes. He also suffered numerous deep slashes and says he needed hundreds of stitches to reattach his scalp and fingers.

His companions had scurried away for their lives instead of clubbing the animal to death.
“Despite the fact that the animal was on top of me alone, I put up a brave fight. My face was covered with blood and I could hardly see what was happening. Later on after the long battle I was half unconscious but I could still hear the animal breathing as it lay under a shade next to me.”

Under the impression that he was dead, the leopard went away. “It just left me lying there for dead and walked away,” he says.

The injuries left by the leopard were life-threatening as he could feel a deep gush on his throat with his fingers.

“Even up to this day I don’t know how I managed to survive that attack. As I lay there helplessly, screaming my breath out for help, my colleagues arrived and carried me on a horse’s back,” says Mogolole his voice trailing off.

He was rushed to a tiny Metsimantsho clinic, from where an ambulance rushed him to Ghanzi Hospital.
“My other hand is paralysed even up to this day. I have also lost vision,” he says. He was forced to go into early retirement this earlier year because he could do nothing for a living.

Victims of leopard-human conflict like Mogolole have also been rendered literally disabled and are now relying on their families for their livelihoods.

But there is hope for Mogolole as medical experts are assessing “the damage left by the leopard” so that he could claim compensation from the Department of Veterinary Services.

The history and incidents of human-leopard conflict in the veldt around Ghanzi region which is a natural habitat for the big cats has been well documented over the years.

But the story of Mogolole still stand out as an exception because in almost all other incidents, the victims were able to survive attacks after driving off the savage animals with helps from their vicious dogs or armed colleagues.

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