Staying with Billy on the edge of the national park, wild animals had undisputed priority. Humans took breakfast in a cage on the veranda whilst the increasingly boisterous big cats roamed free – a precious privilege to be in such close proximity, with our roles reversed. As we sipped hot milky tea behind bars, Billy’s leopard Harriet and her sister Juliette played in the dust with the brown dog Eelie. The python, Monty, snoozed in the granary rafters, and a passing troupe of rhesus monkeys coughed nearby.
The clink of Billy’s weight-training regime penetrated the early morning mist — he kept himself fighting fit. Spruce in shorts, long socks and leather boots, his biceps bulged and he could lift the growing cats into his old green jeep for a drive to acquaint them with their natural prey. He built machan tree platforms deep in the jungle to familiarise the leopards with their new terrain and hone their hunting instincts.
Harriet gave birth to two cubs, fathered by Prince, and during the heavy monsoon of 1976 Billy was anxious to bring her safely home from the flooding jungle. Jim Edwards tells how the river was a raging brown torrent, eddying and overflowing its dense tangle-rooted banks. “It was almost impossible for anyone to have controlled the boat against the current to a safe landing, but he wouldn’t allow us to help due to Harriet’s sensitivity. We were all spellbound watching Billy complete this manoeuver. A few hours later he came back with Harriet and her cubs in the punt, again a tremendously dangerous journey.”