With the dawn of the harvest season, the state of Maharashtra that houses a large population of leopards has seen an evident rise in unavoidable man-leopard encounters. Over the years, a variety of factors like deforestation, habitat encroachment, urbanization and poaching amongst others, have forced these wild animals out of their natural habitat and into the human inhabited regions. In the backdrop of these advancements, the leopards have adapted to habitat modification by drifting out of the shrinking forests margins and into the dense towering sugarcane fields.
Fostering adequate shelter and safety, the sugarcane fields have become a suitable place for the female leopards to birth and rear the cubs. Consequently, with the onset of harvest season, the farmers find themselves in rather unusual situations. As they gather the yield they are often exposed to young leopard cubs amidst the tall sugarcane expanses.
In a recent incident, Wildlife SOS heeded to a similar distress situation at the Nagapur village located in Pune district, Maharashtra. Local farmers stumbled upon a tiny leopard cub just as they were heading back home from the sugarcane fields, after a day of hard labour. Worried for its well-being, they immediately contacted the Forest Department who in turn contacted Wildlife SOS for an early intervention.
Our team, based out of the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre works at rescuing and rehabilitating leopards in distress, while also providing lifelong care to the ones unfit for release back into the wild. Additionally, they extend training and awareness programmes across the state, which complements its efforts and promotes a sense of mutual cohesion with the leopards in the vicinity. With a high success rate of past such rescues and leopard cub-mother reunions, Wildlife SOS has often worked in collaboration with the Maharashtra Forest Department to mitigate man-leopard conflict situations.
A four-member team led by Wildlife SOS senior veterinarian, Dr. Ajay Deshmukh accompanied by a team of forest officers rushed to aid the helpless leopard, who had been identified as a male, approx. 9 weeks old. To be reunited with his mother, the team had to first ensure that the cub was in a healthy condition and fit for release. The team arranged for the cub to be reunited with his mother, close to where it was found. Worried for their own safety, the panic-stricken crowd formerly opposed this idea and insisted that we take the cub away from the neighborhood. But the team made them realize the ramifications of such a situation, where the enraged and stressed mother leopard would pose a bigger threat to the village. On collective agreement and under the watch of the Forest Department, the leopard cub was carefully placed in a safe box and remote-controlled camera traps were installed to document the reunion process, from a safe distance.
After a long wait, a leopardess finally emerged from the adjoining forest and cautiously approached the clearing. On reaching the crate, she patiently waited to ensure no danger stood in the way of her cub, and then she dexterously used her paws to carefully tip it over. After scrutinizing her baby, the content mother delicately grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and disappeared into the dense forest. We could only imagine the relief that grasped her on finding her young one safe and sound!
In order to survive in the wild and learn the skills of survival, it is crucial for the cubs to be reared by the mother for the first two years of its life. Such reunions are extremely important to us and hold a special place in our hearts. Marking this as our 52nd successful rescue, it gives us immense pleasure and satisfaction to be able to provide the young cub a free life in the wild.