In the drizzle of the rain and the rolling hills of Junnar, the students of the Onkoreshwar Tribal School walk barefoot from their homes to the school, amidst the green jungles of Maharashtra. Living as they do in ideal leopard habitat, the locals are accustomed to the occasional sighting of the sleek, spotted prince of the jungle. So the children are also familiar with Wildlife SOS’ branch in the region- the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre- which deals with human leopard conflict in the area, rescuing leopards that fall victim to conflict situations and spending time with the local people to sensitize them to the presence of these felines in their vicinity. However, the vehicle parked outside their school with the organisations logo emblazoned on its sides, was an unusual sight and the children hurried inside to see what was happening.
The team from MLRC had come up with a more creative way to spread awareness in the area, a growing need for which arises as more farms and settlements eat into leopard territory bringing villagers and wildlife in dangerously close proximity with each other. An art competition had been organized for the children of the school, all of whom come from villages in the surrounding areas, prone to conflict with leopards.
More than 200 students took part in the competition, painting animals in the wild and lush green forests, inspired by the amazing natural surroundings they live in. Meanwhile, Wildlife SOS’ leopard rescue team, including Mahendra Dhore and MLRC’s senior veterinarian, Dr. Ajay Deshmukh talked to the children about the threats to the animals they were busy sketching and painting, and the urgent need to help conserve them.
After over an hour of eager hands drawing pencils and smearing paint across paper, the competition was over. The colourful results were judged, following which there was a prize distribution by the team from Wildlife SOS.
The children seemed thrilled to bits with the exercise, and continued chattering about what they’d learnt and the pictures they’d drawn, with winning smiles on everyone’s faces.