MIDWAY : Leopard wrestling

How can you tell if there’s a leopard snuggling next to you in your bed? Perhaps the screeching of your pet cat, dangling from its jaws, will wake you up. That is what happened to Arthur du Mosch, a wildlife guide who lives on a kibbutz in the Negev desert in Israel last week. He lunged at the leopard, grabbed it by the scruff of its neck, making it drop his cat, then held it down for 20 minutes while his family called for help and his teenage son ran to get a camera. Talk about a mortal combat!

“This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day,” Du Mosch said, with no regard for stating the obvious. “I wasn’t thinking, I just acted.” The leopard was old and ailing, which explains why Du Mosch, wearing only a T-shirt and underpants, was able to hold the cat down until animal handlers arrived in time.

It is rare for leopards, which are among the most notoriously shy and elusive animals, to entertain a spot of breaking and entering, though it has happened before. Earlier this year, a fully-grown leopard broke into a house in India and was locked in the bathroom by the frightened residents. Nine years ago, again in India, a leopard made itself comfortable in front of the TV in a suburban house. And last year, a 73-year-old farmer in Kenya was able to fight off and kill a leopard that had attacked him, by reaching into its mouth and pulling its tongue (it helped that he had a machete). But most people wouldn’t be able to fight off a healthy adult big cat.

“Most leopards would avoid you rather than attack up front,” says Philip Dowsett, a conservationist who has spent most of his career looking after leopards. “But if people encroach on their habitats, leopards will have more contact with humans.” So what should you do if a leopard gets into your house, or should you find it snuggling next to you?

“Don’t run. They will chase you down like prey. Try to give them an escape route, make loud noises and wave your hands around. I wouldn’t recommend going for the scruff of its neck - even a hand-reared cub would go for you if you did that. You can’t really restrain a leopard, they are extremely powerful — even a blow from its paw could kill you.” That would be some way to die now, wouldn’t it?