My Life with Leopards

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Aug 2017

Member Reviews

I very much enjoyed this book. I love animals and used to dream of having a job on an expedition just like this. Being let into Graham's world was an amazing experience. I love the way he chronicles everything, detailing each little piece so you can be there with him as he raises these two leopard cubs. You can hear the hyenas howling in the night, yipping to each other in their quest for scraps, the lions snuffling as they explore through the camp, it was so "in your face" I loved the raw power of it.
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Written in first person, van Riel takes us into the world of Graham Cooke, a game warden who is tasked with rehabilitating two young leopards that were used in a movie. Animal lovers will delight in the antics of these kitties while pondering the ethical dilemmas that the situation naturally brings up. While I loved each cat's personality endearing, what I found fascinating was the aspect of "Empty nest syndrome" that plagued Cooke as the leopards' release date drew nearer.
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A young guide at a wildlife preserve in South Africa is given two leopard cubs to raise while they are being used in filming a movie with the idea that he will release them into the wild (the pair was zoo-born) when they were old enough.

Of course he loses his heart to the siblings, as do we. Beautifully told in the first person the book really captures the beauty of the wild and of the cats. I was enchanted by it and raced through the book.
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This book made more of an impression on me than I expected it to. I don't consider myself a leopard enthusiast (not that I don't like them, but I just don't really know much about them) and I have never heard of Graham Cooke before, either.

I was to find out that Graham Cooke was a game ranger, whom we meet here in 1993 as a 22-year-old working at Londolozi, a game resort in South Africa. Human emotion and animal instinct meet when he is given the opportunity to parent two six-week-old leopard cubs. With that comes the task of habituating the cubs to the dangers of the wild in preparation for their eventual release.

It's a heartbreaking story of love, trust and loss. Graham Cooke spent a full year looking after Boycat and Poepface. As a reader, you feel like you get to know both of them yourself. Boycat is the playful, outgoing one, whose trust Cooke easily gains, while his sister Poepface is more of a vigilant observer, clever, reserved and protective. It was engaging reading about Cooke's relationship to the leopards, as it's certainly a difficult one. Predators are not to be underrated and they're ultimately not made for a life in cages. And yet, you get the sense that they became a family, that they shared a bond of real trust and affection. 

The writing was flawed, but still effective. There's an clumsy expression here and there, yet van Riel did an excellent job at portraying Cooke's feelings. However, it struck me as odd that this book, written in the first person, that felt very personal and memoir-like, was not penned by whose perspective it is taking. They seemed to have written the story closely collaborating, but still... how much creative freedom has she taken? How accurately has the story been portrayed? There's no way of finding out.

It also left me wondering about the ethics of raising animals a lot. There's no doubt Cooke is full of respect for animals: there's a passage talking about how his parents took him to a zoo as a kid, as he loved animals and how he couldn't stop crying afterwards, thinking about how the animals lived in cages. It's a fair point, but it did make me ask myself if it's that different from keeping leopard cubs in order to make them star in a film (which was the point of raising those two here)? 

All in all, considering I originally didn't have a particular interest in the subject, this was a touching and engaging tale worth your while if you're into animal stories.
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