14th Oct, 2016

Photograph by Larry Linton

Diablo, a magnificent jet-black leopard, was imported from a German zoo where he had been mistreated by a Free State lion breeding facility. He was deemed a ‘problem animal’ because of his extreme aggression and was, therefore, destined for the canned hunting trade. When Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary heard of Diablo’s situation we decided to rescue him at any cost and, in 2007, Diablo joined us. We soon discovered just how aggressive he was.

Within two weeks of his arrival, he broke through the fence of his management camp and attacked one of the animal keepers who spent a week in hospital and months recovering from the nasty bite wound to his hand. Diablo was also extremely shy of people, snarled at everyone, and refused to leave his night shelter; he never appeared during daytime. Nobody could approach his night shelter.

A conversation with Diablo

After six months, we felt defeated. Someone suggested contacting Anna Breytenbach, an animal communicator. At first we were highly sceptical, but, in desperation, we gave it a try. Anna was not told anything about his past or present situation.

Incredibly, when Anna arrived, Diablo allowed her to sit nearby his shelter. During their session, Anna discovered that he didn’t want to have much to do with humans due to his past, spent in a cramped space where he was mistreated, and that he didn’t like his name (which means ‘devil’) because of the negative associations. He also had some questions, including concern for what had happened to two cubs that had been in a cage beside him before he came to Jukani. Diablo was also worried that he was expected to behave in a certain way and interact with people, which he wasn’t comfortable with.

Through Anna, we reassured him that we expected nothing of him – he could do as he pleased; we respected him. We changed his name to ‘Spirit’ and answered his questions. During this ‘talk’ with Anna he communicated that he would show himself more often but warned that he is a leopard and, as with all wild animals, he does not want to be touched by any human, ever! Remarkably, later that afternoon, for the first time in six months, Diablo – now Spirit – made his way into the large enclosure. Later that day, I reassured him that the cubs were fine and told him that he was beautiful.

Spirit’s true nature shines through

To our astonishment, the very next day, he met us at the front of his enclosure. He sat there in all his splendour and ‘talked’ in low, guttural sounds. We were completely amazed at his behaviour, especially so when his shyness disappeared overnight. Since then you’ll find him lying on his lookout rock in the afternoon, basking in the sun, overlooking all the other animals.

His demeanour has changed completely since his ‘talk’ with Anna; he is now a calm and relaxed animal. He has two leopard girls with him, Kito and Tess, in a massive enclosure with bush, brush, and trees. However, we still respect the fact that Spirit is a leopard, a very dangerous apex predator, who can and probably will attack anyone who disregards this fact. Spirit’s story shows what can happen if you keep the lines of communication open. By doing this we have all reached a place of mutual respect.

Watch the video of the interaction between Spirit and Anna on YouTube: “The incredible story of how leopard Diablo became Spirit Anna Breytenbach”

About Jukani

Jukani was founded in 2005 by Jurg and Karen Olsen (‘Jukani’ being an amalgamation of their names) after they’d experienced the terrible conditions at some lion breeding farms. The Sanctuary provides a safe, comfortable home for wild animals, mainly big cats, many of which were rescued from petting facilities, circuses, zoos, and canned hunting farms.

The focus is on conservation education, specifically the plight of captive large predators. Jukani’s approach is that of respect; people can’t pet the animals and the goal is to ensure that the animals all lead lives as natural as possible. Jukani believes that a sanctuary is more than just a place to keep animals; it is a refuge, a home, and a haven. Their approach has earned them several awards, including the 2014 World Responsible Tourism Award.

Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary funds itself through responsible eco-tourism. Visitors are taken on tours, during which they see the animals and learn about these incredible creatures. The South African Animal Sanctuary Alliance (PBO Number 200/060 667/08) is the sole custodian of all the Jukani inhabitants. For further information please contact 044 534 8409 or 082 979 5683, email info@jukani.co.za or visit www.jukani.co.za