Panjo - the 17 month old Bengal tiger - is still on the loose

Panjo still roaming free

Gloria Edwards, Beeld (Beeld newpaper, South Africa)

Groblersdal - Now they're just hoping their beloved cat comes home.

A 17-month-old Bengal tiger has caught the attention of the whole country after somehow escaping from his owners' bakkie on Monday night, and is now roaming about somewhere between Groblersdal and Delmas.

Helicopters, microlights, aircraft, dogs, trackers, and later even infrared equipment was used in the hope of finding Panjo (which means "playful" in Italian), but he is still at large.

His owners', Goosey, 51, and Rosa Fernandes, 45, hope he will arrive at their smallholding at Endicott near Springs on Wednesday.

The tiger jumped from their Ford F250 bakkie ( bakkie - Afrikaans word for a certain type of vehicle)   on Monday night between 20:00 and 22:00, somewhere between Delmas and his owners' game farm, Jugomaro, at Groblersdal. They were on their way back to the smallholding.

Panjo was on his way to the vet in Springs for his last vaccinations and to have a microchip inserted.

Goosey suspects Panjo could either have jumped from the bakkie when he stopped at a stop sign in Groblersdal, or at a traffic light in Bronkhorstspruit, or at a four-way crossing before the N12 highway near Delmas.

"I don't know how he was able to open the (bakkie's) canopy in order to get out."

Goosey says he loves the tiger as if it were his own child.

Say 'no'

"I've often taken my cat to work with me (in Springs). He was raised in Groblersdal and on the Endicott smallholding and is semi-tame; he's also used to the bakkie."

According to Sapa, Rosa said anyone who spots him should point a stick at him and say "no", or give him some chicken to eat.

Apparently the tiger was spotted on Tuesday from the TV programme 50/50's helicopter, then also by farm workers and a farmer's 16-year-old son.

The search on farms and smallholdings on either side of the R25 at Bronkhorstpspruit and the R42 road between Delmas and Nigel near the Endicott smallholding was called off shortly after 20:00 on Tuesday due to the darkness.

Wendy Wilson of the wildlife unit of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) said a tiger's natural instinct would be to go home.

"He'll try to walk home (to the Endicott smallholding). He has never been in the wild and as such he is disoriented. People should rather not approach him since he may be aggressive, especially if he's injured."

The NSPCA is worried about the animal's safety.

The Fernandeses don't have a permit for the tiger.

Waiting for permit

Rosa said they tried to get one when Panjo was about 1 month old.

"We first had to build a cage for him on the game farm, according to nature conservation's standards, which we recently finished. We're still waiting for the permit to be approved."

She says they bought Panjo when he was a 3-month-old cub at a breeding farm in Zeerust.

"He was weak since he was rejected by his mother. We took him to the vet regularly until he was healthy. He grew up alongside our eight Jack Russells. They're his only friends."

At first they fed him milk with a bottle, but now he eats beef and chickens. He also spends about three hours a day swimming.

Animal expert Mark Tennant from Animal Planet, searched for tracks in the mealie fields with a bakkie until late in the evening along with Buthi Mahlangu, a farm worker, and John-Louis Booysen, who respectively spotted Panjo at 09:00 and 16:00, as well as the Fernandes' son, Justin, whose voice Panjo is used to.

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