A leopard holding facility that was built in 2002 by the forest department to house leopards in Maharashtra only provided cells for solitary confinement and did not provide for large outside enclosures that were adequate to keep the leopards happy and healthy. Out of 26 leopards housed at the center, only eight leopards had access to an external space to exercise. So, in 2007, Wildlife SOS was invited to partner with the government to improve and expand the Leopard Rescue Centre while addressing the needs of the leopards. Since then, some progress has been made. Instead of languishing in the tiny spaces theyâ€™d been housed in for years, the resident leopards are now living in larger, upgraded (though still not ideal) enclosures. Wildlife SOS has also worked to create a master plan for the facility, which will provide vast indoor/outdoor enclosures for every rescued leopard, a veterinary clinic, an education center, and much more. The build-out is limited only by finances.
At the moment, the center has 29 leopards who are living in small cramped quarters with inadequate exercise spaces, and with nowhere to retreat from the sight of humansâ€¦ this can be quite stressful and traumatic for these cats. The top priority for the build-out is to create spacious, well-designed indoor/outdoor enclosures, with individual dens for each leopard (so they can retreat when they are inclined), enough height that they can indulge in their love of climbing, and plenty of â€˜habitat enrichmentâ€™ items to keep their minds challenged and engaged.
Creating enclosures that allow the leopards to live more as they would in the wild will not only be good for their emotional and physical health, it will also make it more likely that some of these longtime captives will one day be able to make the transition back to living in the wild. This would be a dream come true for Wildlife SOS. Our goal is not to house wild animals indefinitely, but whenever possible to heal them and set them free as soon as they become fit for release.
The centre also houses several orphaned leopard cubs. Jaya and Bhima were found in sugar cane fields, apparently abandoned by their mother who was frightened away by farmers, and Shankar and Jiya were taken in after their mom was gravely injured while hunting. The master plan also calls for improved enclosures for these cubs.
Wildlife SOS also works to increase awareness and education about leopards among the people who live in the area and work in the sugar cane fields. By improving the rescue facility, and creating an education center within it, we can have a bigger impact. Our goal is to help the people to co-exist with leopards with increased tolerance, instead of fearing them.
The master plan for the centre has the potential to not only help the leopards currently housed there, and those still in the wild, but other leopards trapped in various locations by the Forest Department who are right now living in heartbreaking conditions. These 60 leopards are being housed in cages no bigger than 3ft x 5ftâ€¦ they are covered in sores and ulcerations resulting from their confinement and from the unsanitary conditions (as it is impossible to clean the cage while they are inside the cage), and they are in dire need of help.
Wildlife SOS is determined to bring them into the rescue centre, once there are facilities to accommodate them.