First published by Penguin Books South Africa in 2012, My Life With Leopards – Graham Cooke’s Story, by Fransje van Riel was a much anticipated read for me, and as soon as it became available online I ordered it, I must admit it sat on my shelf for a while before I could get to it…practically screaming at me to pick it up. What drew me to this book initially, other than the obvious, is that other than Joy Adamson’s Queen of Shaba – The Story of an African Leopard, I am not aware of many other instances where a wild Leopard cub has been raised and released successfully back into the wild.
The story begins in the private Game Reserve of Londolozi, South Africa May 1993 where 22 year old game ranger Graham Cooke is assigned to take care of two 6 week old leopard cubs who had been born into captivity in Zimbabwe.
While the means by which the cubs were secured may not be ideal, this soon becomes unimportant as you read this very personal, passionate and beautiful story. The cubs, one male (Boycat) and one female (Poepface) are entrusted to Graham to be rehabilitated back to the wild once old enough to fend for themselves. Together they embark on a unique and very special journey and for Graham it would be one that changes him forever.
Graham took his responsibility of caring for the two cubs very seriously, and without a doubt loved and cherished their lives and the time they had together. He demonstrates an extreme amount of patience, understanding, respect and kindness towards these amazing and would be potentially dangerous predators never forgetting that his ultimate goal is to ensure they stay wild enough to one day return to the wild.
Grahams work with the cubs is not easy at first but his perseverance and gentleness allows him entry into their world and slowly he learns to communicate with them understanding their needs and behaviors. Along the way he learns the cubs unique personalities, Boycat the more relaxed outgoing of the two and Poepface the more reserved, and you see the cubs trust in Graham develop in wonderful ways, in turn this bond opens up a world of experiences and insights on leopards for Graham.
Finally the cubs are moved to Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley, the place where Graham makes final preparations to let his cubs go forever.
My Life With Leopards is a great read, it is powerful story of a bond between human and animal and the trust they share. The story is filled with highs, lows, humor and “wow” moments, it will leave you with a unique perspective on an experience that only a few individuals have been blessed with. It is also a reminder that nature is amazing and at times very unforgiving, it truly chooses no favorites.
I found myself turning the pages wanting to know what was coming next, and I admit at times getting choked up and teary eyed. Having been fortunate enough to have visited the South Luangwa Valley, many years after this story takes place, I wondered if any of the Leopards I saw there were the descendents of Grahams Poepface.
My Life With Leopards Graham Cooke’s Story is on my Favorite Cat Themed books list and is available online from Amazon.com in traditional Paperback or for Kindle. If you love the big cats, Leopards and wildlife be sure to pick this book up.