A normal day in a village called Jawan, located in Uttar Pradesh’s Aligarh district, became unusually active. What unfolded was dramatic for the human beings residing there, but it wasn’t particularly thrilling for one individual: an adult male leopard. The feline, approximately 6-7 years old, had strayed into the village and decided to take shelter in a house. In a tense and nail-biting incident, Wildlife SOS, the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and the Etawah Safari jointly rescued the animal.
The leopard was first spotted by farmers as it prowled the fields of Jawan. The situation turned into a pandemonium of humongous proportions when the leopard’s presence stirred panic among the residents. When they decided to take matters into their own hands and tried to drive him out of the residential area, the leopard ran into a house. The residence has the same entry and exit point, and so, after people saw the leopard entering the house, they locked the door from the outside. However, there were three people inside the house who locked themselves in the kitchen for their own safety.
In order to carry out the operation seamlessly, the residents had to be evacuated first. The iron grill over the kitchen window was cut so the family could crawl out through the space. Once they exited the house, the rescue teams attempted to locate the leopard, which in itself took almost two hours. After drilling a hole in the wall, they finally located him crouched at the bottom of a staircase. The veterinarians then tranquilised the animal carefully through the hole. The entire operation ran for six hours before the leopard was finally put inside the trap cage.
The leopard was found to be healthy and declared fit for release. The Wildlife SOS team travelled the following morning to Mohand Forest Range in the Shivalik region and oversaw the release of the big cat. The Shivalik forest is a huge, continuous stretch which eventually merges with the forests of Rajaji and Jim Corbett in Uttarakhand. It is a prime habitat for leopards.
The rescue team believes the leopard was probably out looking for his next meal, when he may have wondered to himself where his forest, his home, had gone. In a tragic reality, it was all replaced by human settlement in the form of that village. Not only was his home taken away, but his food source too. With a shrinking habitat, the leopard possibly did not have enough herbivorous animals to feed on and sustain himself. That is why the village was his next best option in order to prey on livestock or domestic cattle.
Being nocturnal animals, leopards usually rest during the day and cover enormous distances of up to 30-40 km at night in search of food. But in this case, the leopard’s attempt to simply find his next meal created a furore and sent people into a frenzy. A situation like this escalates when human beings are unaware of their surrounding habitat, which a leopard is a part of. Inhabiting the same landscape, leopards are essentially their neighbours, and understanding their behaviour can completely change how people look at these big cats and treat them.
Eventually, almost the entire village gathered to get a glimpse of the animal, but the forest officials did a remarkable job of crowd control and covered the rescue area with safety nets.
In December 2021, Wildlife SOS was involved in a leopard rescue operation of an almost similar magnitude, which too was from Aligarh. The leopard had entered the campus of Chaudhary Nihal Singh Inter College, which stirred panic among the people present there. After identifying the leopard as a 6-year-old male, the joint rescue team of the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and Wildlife SOS first evacuated the people from the school. Then, the team precisely located the leopard with the help of CCTV footage and rescued the feline from a classroom.
Not informing the relevant personnel on time during such scenarios opens up a pandora’s box and the ramifications can be negative. In both rescue cases mentioned above, the people involved acted responsibly and waited for the experts to handle the situation instead of tackling the matter themselves. This is one of the first crucial steps to avoid confrontation with a large carnivore like the leopard.
However, there is no denying that leopards straying into these densely populated regions is a direct result of habitat destruction and fragmentation. Issues such as loss of natural habitats may seem like an insurmountable problem but with fair forest management practices and awareness, animals can thrive in the wild. As a reader, you may feel like helping but aren’t sure of how to. By contributing towards our efforts as a monthly donor for Wildlife SOS, you can play an effective role in wildlife conservation.