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My Life with Leopards: Graham Cooke's Story

In 1993 game ranger Graham Cooke was given the opportunity to parent two six-week-old leopard cubs. Establishing himself and his charges in a small tented camp in the middle of the South African bush, Graham set about his task of habituating the cubs to the dangers of the wild in preparation for their eventual release.

But first he had to gain the young leopards’ trust. Boycat, the slightly bigger male cub proved to be an easy-going character and, after his initial reservations, he soon settled in. His sister Poepface however was not that easily swayed. Her complex character and strong reservations appeared to persist, despite Graham’s efforts to win her trust.

Eventually Poepface relented and so began a love story; a powerful bond.

When a year later Graham prepared the cubs for their release in the remote South Luangwa Valley he knew it was the beginning of the end. Joining the cubs on daily walks to familiarise them with their new home. Graham knew that soon it would be time to let go.

Set in both in the bushveld of South Africa and the wilderness that is the South Luangwa Valley in Zambia, My Life with Leopards is a story with the universal theme of love, loss, danger and heartbreak.


"Set in the spectacular wilderness of the South African lowveld and later in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley – both vividly portrayed – this is as poignant a tale of unrequited love as you are ever likely to read. And, like the best animal stories, it tugs at the heartstrings without ever descending into anthropomorphism."

Brian Jackman , BBC Wildlife Magazine

"Anyone who has read Joy Adamson's books will rekindle some of that awe of experiencing life in the company of our big cats. Graham Cooke's tale is no less engaging, as written as a first-person account by Fransje van Riel. ...From the start it is clear that over a year Cooke formed a very close bond with his charges, and it's this emotional entanglement that makes the story all the more heart-rending... Author Van Riel does a sterling job of evoking the sights and sounds of the African bush with lush descriptions, and brings readers directly into Cooke's world… I'll admit that the ending brought a tear to my eye."

Nerine Dorman, author and editor

"Vividly told, beautifully written with lovely descriptions."

Andre Eva Bosch, author and journalist

"A must-read for any wildlife enthusiast."

Adel Groenewald

"This compelling story is a “must read” for anyone who loves nature and the challenges of helping two young leopards get back to their wild world. Well written, entertaining and emotional; to be enjoyed."

Richard Leakey

"No other book I know takes you so deeply into the secret world of the leopard."

BBC Wildlife

“Animal lovers will delight in the antics of these kitties while pondering the ethical dilemmas that the situation naturally brings up. While I loved each cat's personality endearing, what I found fascinating was the aspect of "Empty nest syndrome" that plagued Cooke as the leopards' release date drew nearer.”

Jeimy Gonzalez - Educator

“I very much enjoyed this book. Being let into Graham's world was an amazing experience. I loved the raw power of it.”

Angela Campbell - Reviewer

Buy Fransje van Riel