First prospects

Dr. Maskey, Director of the Nepali Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation comes to visit at the end of September to have a look at Bhagya's enclosure. He is impressed and utters: "This is far better than the cages in the Kathmandu Zoo. We could make use of such an enclosure in Kasahara [Headquarters of the Royal Chitwan National Park] in order to start an orphanage there. Only, I'm somewhat concerned about bad press and a journalist giving us trouble." When I assure him that we never intended to keep Bhagya indefinitely, but that I'm looking for a place for him, he briefly explains the process of applying for an export permit and states: "However, the current legal situation does not allow to transfer the animal to a private zoo."
When later I return with Bhagya's breakfast, he sniffs at it, but doesn't touch it. Instead he sits down in front of the door and looks back and forth between his lead and me. Never before has he let me know so obviously that he wants to have his usual walk before breakfast.

Suddenly dogs bark in the nearby pasture. Bhagya at once races up the nearest tree - not out of panic, but to be able to better observe what is going on.

With a throaty "aom"-sound he inspects trees that arouse his interest. At first he examines them from different angles, jumps at them and climbs up as far as the lead allows. Yet, one evening I let the lead go, and Bhagya climbs as far up as the crown. The branches are so thin, that they break. He hesitates. And starts to miaow quite miserably.

"Bhagya, come! Come back! Come here!"

Cautiously he turns around and climbs with his head facing downwards. When he sees me standing only about 2,5 m underneath, he simply lets himself fall down upon me, fully confident that I will grab hold of him.

From Gerard I receive a list of institutions and organisations in the USA and Canada, which take care of big cats in trouble. He also introduces me to Vernon Weir of the American Sanctuary Association. Vernon writes: "The chance is very good that I can identify an animal sanctuary in the US that would have space for a leopard. But there is considerable work and cost involved. You might want to check on how much the flight will cost, and the animal will also need a veterinary health certificate. We will have to get an import permit from US Fish and Wildlife, and we may need to get a CITES import permit too. Your own wildlife agency will need to approve export."

Happy about the support, I immediately write Vernon in detail, but he never replies.

Bhagya in his enclosure On a rainy afternoon Jaques wants to vaccinate Bhagya against rabies. "Are you sure, that you want to go inside dressed only in shorts?" I ask him. "Why not? Do you think Bhagya wouldn't like them?"

Bhagya bares his little fangs: he doesn't like Jaques' black umbrella at all, but finds his bare legs quite enticing. As the veterinarian follows me into the enclosure, Bhagya hisses at him. Like a flash of lighting Jaques leaps outside. Recovering from shock and trembling, he squats in front of the enclosure and watches me catch Bhagya. When I can finally hold him between me and the wire mesh, Jaques swiftly injects the vaccine.

Bhagya is 6½ months old, when one morning a tiny gap shows in his teeth - there is an incisor missing from his upper jaw. During the next few days he loses one incisor after another and looks utterly comical when growling and baring his gappy little teeth to defend his favourite meal, chicken.

Gerard sends an email from Peter Klose, Program Director of Jungle Cat World, a wildlife park situated near Toronto, Canada: "You have an interesting dilemma on your hands with this leopard. Personally, I'm intrigued by the whole thing and would like to help. Unfortunately, the decision isn't entirely mine. I've forwarded your email to Rob, our Feline Conservation Director, and Christa, the owner. There's no doubt that we could offer a safe and comfortable home for the leopard but we need to take a look at our available space and future collection plan. If the leopard could be included in the studbook then that would emphasize the importance of bringing this animal to North America. ... I'll do what I can."

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