On May 31, 1993, two 6-week-old leopard cubs were brought to the Londolozi Game Reserve, a private reserve bordering the Kruger National Park.
In charge of the cubs was Graham Cooke, a 22-year-old old game ranger who had been working at the reserve since 1988. The intention was to rehabilitate the cubs back into the wild once they were old enough to fend for themselves. And thus begins a poignant love story. A story that revolves around a unique relationship that transgressed the natural boundaries between a human and a cat that is considered to be one of Africa’s most accomplished killers.
Armed with a .22 rifle, Graham’s responsibility was more than daunting. The camp that had been built was in the heart of lion, hyaena and other leopards’ territory. Befriending the young leopards wasn’t easy. The two cubs were understandably scared and hissed and spat as if their life depended on it.
With infinite patience, Graham eventually managed to gain their trust and slowly the cubs’ individual different characters emerged. The little male was relaxed and laid back, whereas his smaller sister revealed a far more stubborn and reserved streak.
Once the cubs were a year old their rehabilitation began in earnest. Graham moved the cubs to Zambia’s remote South Luangwa Valley National Park, where, from a camp on a small island surrounded by the Luangwa River, Graham had to prepare his charges for the final step of the way.
My Life with Leopards is the incredible and unique story of a heart-rending bond between a person and two super predators. Moving, dramatic, powerful and at times infinitely funny, the story allows the reader a unique insight into an adventure of a lifetime and the breath-taking relationship Graham Cooke shared with the incredible big cats.
Attend the official book launch of My Life with Leopards by Fransje van Riel: