by Chris Thorpe (published 9th November 2004 on the Ingwelala website)
Here is the famous, and often a wrongly-told story of one “old-timer” who was attacked in camp and lived to tell the tale. It is the oldest story we have, and dates back to circa 1988 shortly after Ingwelala was established, and a very different era…
Ingwelala is truly a “leopard place” and we have many leopard tales from “Ingwe” to prove this, but this story is probably the best of them all. The story is about Oom Wolfie from bungalow 198. It’s an amazing tale, and it is true, nogal!
It was either in 1996 or 1997 after my brother Mike had visited us when Oom Wolfie told me the tale. He went to Oom Wolfie’s 88th birthday party at bungalow 198 – and to all accounts it was quite a bash. So when my brother, resurrected from the dead the next day, told me about the stuffed leaping leopard in the sitkamer at 198, and that Oom Wolfie had fought it with his bare hands; well I am sure you can understand why I just rolled my eyes and looked to the heavens. Then he told me that Oom Wolfie would tell us the tale of how he fought this leopard if we came over with a bottle of Klipdrif sometime! Well as you can just imagine I rolled my eyes and looked to the heavens even more.
When we eventually did visit, it was one of those sweaty, heavy mid-summer days and we arrived at Oom Wolfie’s house with the klippies (met Eish), and a 2l Coke. it was so hot that Oom Wolfie suggested we sit outside the back door in the shade and “catch the breeze.” So there we sat, amongst the brooms and mops, looking out onto the lawn where they used to feed the porcupines.
The Klippies and Coke were flowing and the tale was told: –
“It was in the old days here at Ingwelala. The leopard had killed my dog, and man I loved that dog. I know leopards. Now when a leopard kills a dog and it leaves it – it considers that kill as its own, and it will always come back for it. So I decided to get that leopard. I put my dead dog’s body on the front lawn in front of the stoep. Ja, that side, in front, not this side where the porcupines come in the evening. It was getting dark and I sat in a chair on the stoep with my gun, waiting. And I waited. And I waited.
In the early morning sometime between 3.30am and 4.00am I needed a pee and there was no sign of the leopard, so I walked onto the lawn.
That was when he got me.
While I was sitting quietly on the stoep, the leopard was on the roof waiting for me. I saw it just as it jumped, and I turned, and dived underneath it as it hit me. It tried to bite me in the neck. But, as I managed to move my neck out of the way it bit me, right here, in my shoulder and back of my neck.”
With that Oom Wolfie grabbed my hand. My puny hand was engulfed and crushed by a steel grip with his hand the size of a bunch of bananas. Even at that age, and remember he was then 88, he was immensely powerful. He thrust my now squashed fingers into the deep crevice of a scar where there should have been muscle in the neck and shoulder, and he continued:-
“Now I know leopards, and I knew that if I tried to push it away or fight it off me it would tear my guts out with its back feet. I had seen how a leopard had done this with a big dog before, and I knew it was going to do the same to me. So I grabbed it as it hit me and bit me in the neck and shoulder, and I pulled that leopard tight onto me. I hugged it hard so that the back legs could not move and got my legs around his hind quarters, and I squeezed. We had both fallen onto the ground and we were rolling around together. The leopard biting me in the crook of my neck and growling, and me hugging him so hard that he could not move or change position or tear me up. I managed to then get both my hands on his throat as he was biting me here” …. and he touched the crook of his neck “and now it was time to see who was boss, and I started to throttle him.”
“I did not know fear, but that leopard did. We were like that for a long time that leopard and me. I wanted to call my wife for help, but I didn’t have much voice because I had had an operation to have a lung removed a couple of weeks earlier. I could only “hoes”, but anyway my wife heard the commotion with the growling, and she came onto the stoep, and saw us rolling around. She first put her hands in her hair when she saw us there, that leopard and me. Then she screamed at the leopard, but it would not let go, and I could not let it go, and I had to keep fighting and holding it, as hard as I could with my hands and legs and my body. I patiently explained to her where to find the rifle on the stoep and with the leopard still biting me, and me fighting that leopard with all my might, explained to her how to operate the rifle, and where to shoot that leopard with the death shot.
“She shot the leopard right on me, one shot, in the head and when we came apart I was a big bloody mess.”
By now Tannie Wolfie had joined us and took up the tale:-
“ Ja, he was a very big mess. He was scratched and bitten and bleeding badly. We got him into the back of the Datsun bakkie and drove on the stoffpad all the way to Hoedspruit. It was not like today. That road was bad then and it was sand road all the way. We drove to Dr. Swarts’ rooms – you know Dr Blackie Swart? His doctors’ rooms were at his house, and his wife opened up and let us in because Dr Blackie was in the bathroom busy shaving. He seemed to take a long time, and we were getting worried because Oom Wolfie, he was bleeding so badly. Then Dr Blackie walked past the waiting room and saw us sitting there and how badly he was bleeding. When he saw it was us and how bad Oom Wolfie was looking he said “O my God dit is Wolfie Wolmarans, ek het gedink dit was ‘n ander mens”. (translation: “Oh my God is it Wolfie Wolmarans. I thought it was someone else”) Then he rushed.
“After Oom Wolfie was all stitched up we came back to Ingwelala.”
Then Oom Wolfie said “We had it stuffed and now it is in the voorkamer. Would you like to come in and see it?”
And with that we all trouped in. Tannie wanted to dress up for the photo but Oom Wolfie assured her that she was looking great, so she put on her blue stokies and Oom Wolfie fetched the rifle and handed it to her. A well-rehearsed photo session followed with Oom Wolfie wanting Tannie as the central hero. She sat on a riempie stool holding the rifle with her kind face trying to look like that of the hunter and hero that she was.
These truly remarkable people were special, and a reminder that the bush, and the people that live in it are special. What is even more remarkable is that Oom Wolfie was 78 years old when he fought that leopard, and I might add that this was not a small leopard.
Sadly, Oom Wolfie, or Oupa Wolfie as the family knew him, passed away in February 1998 in his 90th year. It was only a few months later that year that Tannie Wolfie or Ouma also passed away at the age of 91 – a month after their 64th wedding anniversary. They had lived at what we now know as Ingwelala for exactly 30 years, and this really was the end of an era at Ingwelala. Progress, development and the changes that came with it, were not for them.
Whenever we drive past 198 on the main road we look for the porcupines that are no longer there, and we think of the low wire fence at the front to keep the dogs in, and of course Oom Wolfie and his leopard.