By Zafrir Rinat
The leopard that was caught in a Sde Boker home last week is unlikely to be able to survive in the wild, sources from the Israel Nation and National Parks Protection Authority say. The leopard, a male, has spent the last few days in Yotvata's Hai Bar zoo.
The animal had skeletal injuries, particularly to its hind legs, that would make it extremely difficult for it to hunt for sustenance, INNPPA sources said.
These debilitating injuries led to the leopard's capture last week, after it chased Arthur du Mosch's cat into the family's Sde Boker home. Fit leopards usually do not venture into residential areas, but ill or aging ones have been known to foray into built-up areas to hunt household animals and pets, which are easy pray.
Du Mosch caught the leopard in his bedroom in the middle of the night, pulling it off his cat by the scruff of its neck and pinning it to his bed until INNPPA rangers arrived.
To determine whether the feline was fit to be returned to the wild, the INNPPA first requested the Hebrew University Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Beit Dagan give it a thorough medical examination.
"The leopard suffers from severe joint injuries and various deformities of the back and neck vertebrae," INNPPA's chief veterinarian, Dr. Roni King, told Haaertz. "Its situation is chronic and irreparable, and keeps it from catching its natural prey. That was why it was in poor physical condition when it was caught. Only now is it beginning to receive a steady supply of food, and it is gradually recovering."
King said the leopard was an adult and that its teeth were in good condition. "This supports our assumption that it was looking for food in Sde Boker because of skeletal problems. We believe some of these are hereditary."
In nature, a solitary male leopard usually roams a territory of several thousand square kilometers. In the Judean Desert region, leopards usually feed on hyrax, gazelles and young or ailing ibex. In order to catch prey in the mountainous terrain, leopards must maintain their agility to dash up and down the jagged rocks.
The INNPPA used to monitor individual leopards in the south by trapping them and tagging them with radio transmitters. However, in recent years, the INNPPA has stopped doing so. According to 2004 data, Israel was home to some six to eight animals.
Despite the incident at Sde Boker, INNPPA officials said they would not resume trapping leopards. "We aim to interfere as little as possible with their lives," Dr. Yehoshua Shaked, chief INNPPA researcher, said.