Panjo the tiger, who reportedly jumped out of his owners’ bakkie in Mpumalanga on Tuesday morning and went walkabout, has caused a stir locally and internationally as attempts are made to trace him.
After Eyewitness News reported he had managed to get out the bakkie between Delmas and Groblersdal and that his owners were worried about him, Mpumalanga’s wildlife unit and the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) sprang into action to help find him.
An eblockwatch alert had him spotted at a four-way stop on the R42 near Nigel. Another report had him next to the Wimpy in Delmas.
“I scrambled a driver to go out there and find him, but he found nothing,” said an exasperated Louw Steyn of the Mpumalanga Parks Board’s wildlife unit.
“If something happened in Delmas, we would know about it. We have been chasing everywhere … people are saying things like, ‘It’s in the street’.”
The manager of the Delmas Wimpy, sounding as though he was the victim of a schoolboy prank, dryly replied: “No, I don’t think I noticed that,” when contacted by the South African Press Association for confirmation of the sighting outside his fast-food outlet.
Dries Pienaar, also with the province’s wildlife unit, said the main concern was to find the tiger and protect anyone who may encounter the possibly frightened animal.
If the unit found him, it planned to dart, not shoot him.
“It’s always the first choice to dart it,” he said.
The unit was hoping the Tiger was tame enough for its owner to catch it.
“We can always deal with the legal aspects later,” he said of earlier reports that no permit had been issued for the animal.
NSPCA spokesperson Christine Kuch said its wildlife unit was “on the ground” trying to find him, but shortly after midday she had not heard anything more.
Meanwhile, Springs veterinarian Dr Christo van Niekerk spoke of the days Panjo went to his practice for his weigh-ins when he was still a cub.
“I treated him as a youngster last year. And I used to weigh him. He was about 10kg then. He must be about 120kg by now,” said van Niekerk, adding that Panjo had seemed well-loved and cared for by his owner, who was keeping him as a pet.
‘It is a beautiful animal’
The last he had heard, Panjo’s owners, who lived in the area, had decided that Panjo needed to be moved to their farm as he had grown too big.
“It was a bit of surprise to see a tiger, because it is a rare animal to see. It is a beautiful animal,” he said. “It was very tame.”
He advised people who may encounter Panjo to “just stay clear from it”.
“Any wild animal is a dangerous animal. Maybe he will walk to you, or run away. Most probably he will be scared and confused. But he doesn’t have a fear for man, because he is very tame.”
Asked whether he would be able to find his own way home, Van Niekerk said it was known for cats to be able to do this, but he was not sure about a big cat like Panjo.
“But there is a possibility.”
The Gauteng department of the environment said it was on standby to help in any way needed.
Meanwhile, Panjo made it on to Dutch newspaper website De Telegraaf as well as on to the BBC’s news site.
His owner, Rose Fernandes, has recommended that anyone who finds him must point a stick at him and say “no”, or offer him a chicken to eat. — Sapa