I always pride myself at remaining professional and non-emotional, but sometimes it feels like an impossible feat. It has taken me over a week to gather myself enough to sit and write this….we have lost Damien the black leopard.
After losing our old domestic cat friend, Kovu, a few days earlier, it was that much harder to say goodbye to another of our beloved animals.
Damien was one of the first few animals we rescued and has been loved by hundreds of volunteers and interns since. Now he has passed away from age-related heart problems just before turning 23.
This beautiful black leopard was originally rescued from a “pseudo-sanctuary” (a place that calls itself a sanctuary but actually exploits the animals). For six years, he lived in a very small cage with a concrete floor and was severely mistreated.
Damien was about to be confiscated by authorities and destroyed when we were given permission to pick him up and save his life. He was extremely aggressive, but we managed to safely move him to his forever home.
His transformation began slowly. He was extremely fearful of people and it took time and patience for him to calm down and trust that the abuse he sustained before we rescued him was never going to happen again.
In the peaceful environment of our sanctuary, Damien learned to trust his daily caregivers. It has been extremely rewarding to watch him recover both physically and emotionally and thrive in his sanctuary home.
Although he would always remember the torment he endured, he learned that not all humans would betray him. Although he demonstrated to us that he preferred to live alone (not with another leopard), he grew from only playing with his toys and enrichment after we walked away, to intentionally waiting to play with his surprises until we were there to watch.
Thanks to kind and generous support of so many, Damien lived a very full life under our care.
Kovu, the domestic cat that we lost just a few days before Damien, was nicknamed our “pygmy furry-tailed black leopard” because he always seemed convinced that he was just as powerful a presence as Damien at the sanctuary.
They are together once again. Goodbye Damien – we will all miss you. You have taught all of us that even the most traumatized animals can learn to trust and thrive, and that is what makes all of the hard work so rewarding to everyone involved.