By Danny Baggott @dan_baggie
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Videographer / director: Nathan Pellow-Jarman
Producer: Danny Baggott
Editor: Thom Johnson
Armand, 51, runs the Iron Throne Predator and Wildlife Park in South Africa, and just a few weeks ago, one of his adult female leopards gave birth to two cubs on site.
The cubs now live in Armand’s home, being hand-fed with milk bottles and sleeping next to him in bed each night.
Whilst Armand expects criticism for separating the mother and her babies at such a young age, he is adamant that this is the best way to raise the cubs in captivity – even with the increased level of danger that he is faced with when interacting with the vulnerable mother.
In addition to keeping a very close eye on the cubs and parents, Armand has to maintain the well-being of his other animals at the park – including 10 lions, three tigers and a cheetah.
Armand told Barcroft TV: “Leopards are probably my favourite animal to interact with.
“The cubs now live inside my house – in my mind, it’s the only way to raise them.
“They become part of your life, part of your space.
“But there is so much that could go wrong with them, you have to monitor them all the time.”
Armand admits that taking care of the cubs is like a full time job.
They require feeding twice a day for the first six months and the temperature of the milk must be carefully monitored, in addition to the general hygiene of their living space.
Armand was incredibly surprised when one of the cubs was born with black fur – this is an extremely rare occurrence with both of the parents having “normal” fur and no black genes whatsoever.
Armand said: “The significance of this little guy is that black leopards are extremely, extremely rare.
“I’d say the ratio is one to 1,000.
“We’ve got a 100 kilo male that we put with the adult females – and he’s a normal leopard. He has no black genes.
“You can’t force these things to happen. We’ve had so many people contacting us asking how did we do this?
“Our black cub is actually much more feisty, he is going to be massive.
“There’s no difference between these leopards and your cat at home. They need to be enriched.
“The biggest thing is the bond, the bond you build with them – they will never forget that.
“Both of the cubs are first time cubs from a first time mother.
“I can’t stress it enough, you have to look after the mother. She has to be in a comfortable environment and feel happy. Then, the birth process is easy.”
Armand is now also making sure to interact with the mother each day.
“I’ve got absolutely no fear whatsoever when I go in with the leopards,” he said.
“It doesn’t mean I don’t respect them. I wouldn’t take anybody inside, it’s just not worth the risk.
“You have to read their body language – and sometimes, they will tell you they’re not in the mood today.
“You’re going to get hurt if you don’t respect them.
“I think people get a big fear when the adult leopards jump on me. They’re about 70 kilos and they leap straight into my arms.
“But I always say leopards are never this calm until you’ve got an awesome bond with them.”
Armand started work at the sanctuary over a year ago and has always taken the cubs into his home in order to imprint them.
He said: “I completely believe this is the only way to raise animals.
“You can try and prove me wrong, but I interact with 300kg lions, who are completely imprinted.
“This is not the wild, it’s a captive situation. You have to remember it’s different circumstances.”
And Armand shows no signs of slowing down in terms of the amount of animals he looks after.
He is now looking forward to starting up his own sanctuary in the future.
“You never know what the future holds,” he continued.
“I’m a very pleased and happy person; because I work with big cats and love them – and they love me back.”