A jubilant Goosey Fernandes, owner of Panjo, the hand-reared tiger who was found on Wednesday night after going walkabout for two days, celebrated by opening a bottle of whiskey for himself, and a bottle of milk for his beloved animal.
“When I called out to him, he came straight towards me, put his head on my shoulder and purred,” Fernandes told the South African Press Association over the phone.
“And he carried on purring all the way back; this is how I communicate with him, we understand each other … Everyone is now having a whiskey at home, we are ecstatic and relieved.”
Panjo was found in the bushes near Verena, Mpumalanga, at about 8pm.
A frantic search began for the majestic animal after he jumped out of his owners’ bakkie in Delmas on Monday evening.
“He was frightened, terrified. I lured him with a piece of rump steak … but he knew me already,” Fernandes said before calling out Panjo’s name.
“Yes, he is walking around the house, we haven’t put him back on to the farm. He is enjoying being home, and we are enjoying him.”
The animal was transported back in the same vehicle he escaped from.
Fernandes said he had been taking the 145kg animal to a vet for his vaccinations and for a chip to be inserted when “he went Awol”.
“You know, when I realised he was gone, I just fell to my knees, phoned my wife and said to her, ‘Dear God, Panjo’s gone’,” said an emotional Fernandes.
He said when sniffer dogs tracked the scent of the animal, people who were part of the search team started getting overly excited.
“I told them, please just leave him [Panjo] alone. It was dark, they were waving torches in hand … I must say I got a bit cheesed off, so I said to them, ‘Please, let me load him into the van’. “
Panjo, a Bengal tiger, caused much panic amongst community members since his escape.
Some expressed fears that he may attack a person as he had not eaten since Monday evening.
Many also claimed to have spotted the animal.
Earlier on Wednesday, Fernandes said he had started receiving calls from people demanding money as compensation for their animals — they said the animals were eaten by the feline, which was used to getting food from his owner.
“One guy said, ‘Your cat just killed three of my cows. I have got him and I want R10 000’,” said Fernandes. “I told him, ‘I will give you R20 000, just keep him there’, but then I can’t get hold of him again.”
It was eventually a sighting by a farmer in Verena that led to Panjo being found, Fernandes said.
“He had quite a roam.”
Panjo was born on February 21 last year on Fernandes’s property.
“He was born on Robert Mugabe’s birthday, but Panjo is too loveable,” he chuckled. — Sapa