Date with leopard draws film-maker back

20:54, Jun 24 2014
 Judith Curran
UNDER ATTACK: This picture shows the moment a leopard attacked Dunedin women Judith Curran in Namibia in 2004.

Judith Curran wants to return to Namibia for a reunion with the leopard whose attack left her bleeding on the African savannah 10 years ago.

The hand-raised cat, Akira, ripped chunks out of Curran's thigh and lower leg in a wildlife sanctuary in Africa in 2004.

A decade on, the 56-year-old Dunedin film producer wants to face Akira again.

Akira the leopard
WILD ANIMAL: Akira the leopard, who attacked film producer Judith Curran on the African savannah 10 years ago.

"I really, really want to go back. He is about 15 years old now, very healthy and has fathered several litters of cubs. I would love to look him in the eye," she said.

Curran was with a cameraman and a presenter on "the very last day of a two-month shoot", which took them throughout Africa, when Akira attacked.

"We were making a show about scavengers for [television channel] Animal Planet and Akira was like a bonus bit of footage. We were pretty much done and had a big wrap party planned in Johannesburg."


Judith Curran
TWO YEARS ON: Dunedin producer Judith Curran in Borneo in 2006.

Curran never made it to the wrap party. Instead, she became "a snack for an African leopard".

Curran has since won scar-comparison competitions at dinner parties "hands down" and has no trouble recounting the details of the late-afternoon attack.

"He rubbed his body along my legs [and] I think he got an electric charge off me. He turned so suddenly and unexpectedly. You just go into this extraordinary adrenalised state. Everything slows down. It is like you are going through a tunnel," she said.

Akira took "a huge bite" out of her right thigh and his claws "disembowelled" her lower leg.

At one point, she put her hand out protect herself, and one of the leopard's teeth pierced it.

"You could see the femoral artery in my leg. He missed it by a whisker. If he had nicked it, I would have bled out and died."

The cameraman recorded what happened and Curran said it was "therapeutic" watching the footage later on.

"There is one bit where Akira dragged me for some distance. I remember the jaws going in, but I don't remember him dragging me.

"There was talk of Akira being destroyed or put down and I was very adamant that he should not be. He was a wild animal doing what he was supposed to do."

She was in a Johannesburg hospital for three weeks before flying to Christchurch and arriving home in Dunedin in a stretch limousine with a toy leopard hanging out of the window.

Curran spent the next two years filming orangutans in Borneo after dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder .

This month, she will complete her "gift to Africa" - a feature-length documentary she hoped would inform consumers in China and Southeast Asia about the effects of the illegal ivory and rhino horn trade on African wildlife.

The End of the Wild follows Chinese basketball player Yao Ming in Africa as he sees the consequences of poaching first-hand, such as carcasses left behind and orphaned baby elephants and rhinos.

"The exciting thing is that potentially one billion people could watch this film. It is going to air in August in China . . . it may be a game-changer." Curran said.

"My cameraman told me, ‘When you leave your flesh on the savannah, the country is in your blood'. I am just so grateful I survived."

The Press