The Solitude of Leopards
The leopards have struck again, scream the headlines of the national newspapers. Week after week, there have been updates, of pilgrims being attacked and the wild animal being caught. What’s happening you wonder, why are these animals attacking humans all of a sudden?
But wildlife officials and researchers who analyse this man – leopard conflict, say that this problem is an ancient one. The leopard is one animal that has lived close to villages, croplands and sugarcane fields unlike man eaters. It slinks in and out of villages especially in rural areas, helping itself to the livestock, goats, pigs, and have a special liking for dogs. In the hamlets around Kodaikanal, villagers become alert when their goats and dogs go missing. They know there is a panther on the prowl!
There are villages in north India where the villagers know that this animal is best left alone. The villagers wisely say “Leave it alone, let it go its own way,” when they come across it and indeed they swear, that the animal will have a good look at you and continue on its way. But take a stick or throw a stone, it turns aggressive and attacks you. So, being on these roads during the dark hours is asking for trouble. The recent unfortunate attacks of the leopard in Tirupati show that the children who were attacked were with their family, climbing the hill in the early hours of the morning when it was still dark. This is the time when nocturnal animals like the panthers hold their own, for it is their world, their habitat.
The vicinity of the pilgrim centres is not clean, with food strewn all over the place. This attracts animals. The temple could maintain a litter-free zone. Keeping these special roads closed in the night for humans and the street lights switched off would help the wild animals to roam freely in their habitat.
Vidya Athreya of the Kaati Trust who is actively involved in the leopard issue, says that the leopard is not very different from the cat, but yes, it is wild. It has strong bonds with its family. The mother, though loving, is strict in her upbringing of the cubs. She teaches them to hunt and fend for themselves. But when the cubs are abandoned — if the mother is killed or caught — the cubs are left to fend for themselves, which is a traumatic experience for them. Some cannot survive on their own with their “training” being incomplete. At times this could be the reason that the animal goes to the villages looking for food as it is an easy way to get it, instead of the proper hunt.
All animals are our national wealth and they need to be protected and preserved. Let the leopard too be on the priority list.
Leopard cubs are extremely playful. A farmer friend once noticed that the young gooseberry trees were broken with snapped branches. Mystified, he kept watch and discovered that the leopard cubs “played” with the trees!
African leopard cubs spend a great deal of time in trees with their mother. They learn at an early age the climbing skills that help them survive as adults. Snow leopard cubs come prepared for the harsh weather of their natural habitat. The mother’s rich milk helps them generate the body heat and grow the body mass necessary to face the long winter ahead.
The Indian leopard ( Panthera pardus fusca) is a leopard subspecies widely distributed in the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the four big cats found in India, apart from the Asiatic lion, the Bengal tiger and the snow leopard. Indian leopards are found all over India, in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and parts of Pakistan. They inhabit tropical rain forests, dry deciduous forests, temperate forests and northern coniferous forests. India’s Forest Department regularly sets up traps in potential conflict areas and releases the captured leopards in an appropriate habitat away from settlements.
Leopards may sometimes be confused with two other large spotted cats, the cheetah and the jaguar.
However, the patterns of spots in each are different. The leopard normally has rounder, smaller rosettes than those of the jaguar. The cheetah has simple spots, evenly spread; the jaguar has small spots inside the polygonal rosettes. The leopard is larger and much more muscular than the cheetah, but slightly smaller and more lightly built than the jaguar.
V.V. Krishnan, Akhilesh