In the lush sugarcane fields of the state of Maharashtra, the mother leopard often finds assurance to birth and nurture its young ones. With human habitations push the margins of forest covers inwards, these wild cats have attuned well to share their territory and live parallel to humans. This often paves way for an overlap of territory, resulting in an encounter and placing both animal and human lives at risk.
Among many threats to the population of Indian leopards, anthropogenic factors have posed a graver challenge. Rapid urbanization and expanding farmlands to meet the bursting human population are now greater risk factors than ever before. The Indian leopard, which is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ under the IUCN Red List, has an estimated figure of 12,000-14,000 only, remaining in the country. Hence, the urgency of the situation is critical and even a single call for help is imperative.
Dotted across villages that are situated in close proximities to the forests, the wells constitute the support system for the sugarcane farming communities. Indispensable to these sugarcane cultivators, the wells offer a deadly fate to the wildlife. One such unforeseen event was reported on 5th May 2019, at the Manjarwadi village in Junnar, where an approximately 5-month old leopard cub escaped a narrow brush with death after falling into a 45-feet-deep well.
On hearing the helpless yelps of the cub, the concerned villagers reached the well only to find out that a leopard cub had fallen into an uncovered well. Struggling to stay afloat by paddling for hours had drained the leopard cub and it was at the fatal risk of drowning in waist deep water. Consequently, with no further delay, the locals alerted the respective Forest Department. Almost immediately, the Range Forest Officer Ajit Shinde alerted the Wildlife SOS team based out of the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, as both team collectively rushed to the location to aid the helpless feline.
By the time Wildlife SOS team and Forest Department arrived at the village, curious but concerned onlookers had gathered around the well to look out for the leopard cub, which had now clambered onto an elevated ridge. On arrival, the team quickly rolled out the extrication plan while ensuring minimal stress to the cub as well implementing all safety measures to avoid any mishaps.
The team carefully lowered a trap cage into the well. The sight of a large metal cage initially scared the cub, whose fear overruled the dry safety of the cage. As the cub carefully explored the cage before climbing onto it, the team patiently waited and eventually extricated the drenched cub.
The cub was estimated to be about five-months old and fit to be released back into the wild. It is essential for the cubs in the wild to be reared by its mother for the initial few years of its life, in order to ensure they learn the skills of survival. Hence, Wildlife SOS aims to reunite leopard cubs with their mothers, within few hours of rescue. Fortunately, the villagers had reported that a mother leopard was spotted multiple times in the area. Accordingly, the cub on being affirmed fit was released back in the same area, for it to successfully reunite with its mother.
Wildlife SOS is extremely grateful to the local villagers for reaching out to the concerned authorities and not taking the matters in their hands. Owing to their timely intimation, the leopard evaded an unfortunate fate. The organization in collaboration with the Forest Department rescues leopards that often fall victim to man-animal conflicts.