‘We are lucky to be alive’, says couple after harrowing encounter with leopard at camp site

A South African pilot has taken to social media to share his experience after he and his partner were attacked by a leopard while on a camping holiday. Picture: Gavin Allderman

A South African pilot has taken to social media to share his experience after he and his partner were attacked by a leopard while on a camping holiday. Picture: Gavin Allderman

Published Mar 25, 2024


A Cape Town couple has come face to face with a leopard and lived to tell the tale.

Gavin Allderman and his partner, Jill Sheard, were camping at Bosobogolo camp in Kgalagadi, earlier this month when they encountered a leopard.

Allderman, a pilot with South African Airways, had been visiting the camp site for over 40 years and this was the first time he ever experienced something to terrifying.

Taking to social media, Allderman said they were getting ready to turn in for the night when he noticed an animal near their vehicle.

"After a little braai we packed up camp, securing all our equipment. We had heard lions in the distance the previous night. Jill showered and got into the rooftop tent. I was just finishing showering when I noticed an animal in the murky edges of the circle of light. I yelled “Jill, a leopard”, but in the low light had doubts and thought it could perhaps be a cheetah ... big mistake," Allderman said.

He explained that he secured the motion sensor lights around their vehicle and climbed up into the tent.

"We zipped up the gauze insect protective coverings and, feeling secure, lay in bed reading," he said.

Where the leopard clawed through the gauze insect protective covering on the tent of the couple’s camp, atop their bakkie. Picture: Gavin Allderman

Where the leopard clawed through the gauze insect protective covering on the tent of the couple’s camp, atop their bakkie. Picture: Gavin Allderman

The pair was aware that the animal was still lurking nearby because it triggered the motion sensor light.

"At one point, we were aware that the 'cheetah' crawled under the bakkie, only its tail was visible. In the glimpses we caught, we could see the animal was completely emaciated and gaunt," Allderman recalled.

He said they dozed off around 10pm and at 1.30am, he woke up after hearing movement on the ladder.

Allderman said when he peered down the ladder, he saw the big cat climbing up the ladder.

"Screaming and swearing was no deterrent as he scrambled up and launched himself onto the gauze of the tent, his claws gripping the thin fabric with his head inches from my face," Allderman said.

He began to punch furiously at the animal.

"I realised we were now bare fisted fighting for our lives. Both of us were shouting and screaming, Jill from behind me, hitting with a pillow at its paws, and then with her book. Every now and again the animal pulled its head back in a terrifying gesture as if to attack and bite through the gauze. At these moments I concentrated on punching his claws. I became aware that there was blood spattering in copious amounts, but just carried on punching and shouting, adrenaline coursing through my body in this fight for life," Allderman said.

The blood-soaked pillow cover that Gavin Allderman used to cover his hand. Picture: Gavin Allderman

He said during the ordeal, the animal did not let out any sound, apart from its jagged breathing.

"There was no flight option at this point. The terror is palatable as I write this. I must have punched at least 30 times, using all my energy. Eventually, the animal fell back and we realised we had a 'temporary stay of execution'. My hand was bleeding profusely. Jill took off a pillow slip which we hurriedly wrapped around it to try and stem the flow of blood," Allderman said.

The mark left on Gavin Allderman’s hand after his brave fight with the leopard. Picture: Gavin Allderman

Panting and shaking from the terrifying experience, the couple had to navigate how to get back into their vehicle.

Minutes later, the leopard jumped onto the bonnet and the couple thought they would have to fight the giant cat through the night.

"When the animal reappeared at the foot of the ladder we sprayed it with water from a spray bottle we had with us…. this was not much of a deterrent but a mild distraction. Jill came up with the suggestion of pulling the ladder in.

"As I opened the gauze to do this, the animal reappeared attacking the bottom of the ladder as I swung it at him. Eventually we got the ladder in with the tent zipped up," Allderman said.

He said he managed to get out of the tent and into the bakkie with his partner still in the tent.

"Jill hauled the ladder in, shouting to ask if I was ok, but I couldn’t hear her, She was relieved when she saw the headlights illuminating as I slid into the drivers seat. Shaking with shock, adrenaline and with the exertions of pounding at the beast’s face with all my might for a lengthy period, I thought at least now we have a chance as I started the Toyota," Allderman said.

He shouted to Sheard to ask if she was okay and he managed to move the vehicle towards the leopard to chase it away.

They drove to another camp site and Allderman helped Sheard down from the top of the vehicle.

Allderman said the pillow slip used to cover his bleeding hand was now drenched in blood and they were thinking the worst.

"To our surprise all that blood came from a single, pretty deep scratch at the base of my ring finger. Phew….relief!

"Nurse Jill applied her skills, we washed my hand in a Dettol solution, dried it and put on bandages and antiseptics … things were at last looking up.

“All this time we were nervously keeping our eyes open as we suspected it may be coming after its injured prey.

“We slowly drove back towards our camp. In the headlights, there it was ... unmistakably a gaunt, highly compromised leopard. My skin crawled as realisation set in that we had just, with our fists, driven off this killer animal," Allderman said.

The couple managed to take some photographs of the animal before it ducked off into the dark bush.

"At the camp, sitting in the Hilux talking about the incident, we realised just how lucky we had been. We were suffering now from post traumatic stress so I quickly jumped out and retrieved a bottle of whisky which we sipped neat to calm our jangled nerves. What a night! I realised we were both lucky to be alive.

"The following morning we packed up camp and drove to Mabua gate to report the incident. At the gate we met a French couple, both vets, who very kindly redressed my wound and gave advice regarding rabies and tetanus shots. After consulting doctors we realised I needed an anti tetanus shot. We washed our bloodied sheets at the game scout camp and then set off to Lesholoago camp hoping it would be unoccupied - fortunately it was. That evening, game scouts from the Department Of Wildlife & National Parks arrived to check on us," he said.

The next day, Allderman was administered an anti-tetanus vaccine.

"We reported the incident to the South African National Parks when we arrived at Nossob few days later.

"This was such an unexpected, terrifying and horrific experience which is taking time to assimilate. However, one must accept that visiting the wild is a highly risky activity. I have been going to Mabua for 43 years, almost every year and sometimes two or three times a year, so regard myself as reasonably experienced. I have always carried an axe and a divers knife into the tent with me, but the recent acquisition of a rooftop tent has made me feel safer so I have let this practise slip. Big mistake," Allderman said.

He added that if he had realised sooner that it was a leopard, he would have been more alert and cautious.

"A compromised animal is a far more dangerous risk as we all know. I am glad we stayed on for five extra nights; it helped come to terms with the incident," he said.