Anand my colleague and scientist with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) informed me that a leopard had been caught at a small town called Mudis in a trap set by the forest department as a solution for the recent attack on a young girl (luckily it was a minor injury) by a leopard and we were to go there. We reached the spot and found that a crowd was already gathering, and with it was growing noise and confusion.
Once the press got photographs for their morning news and a veterinarian from the forest department had been informed, the first wave of curious onlookers began to subside. It was the first time that I was witnessing a scenario like this. I would have taken lots of pictures had I seen this beautiful animal out free but here, something held me back. I was conscious not to tread too close to the cage and stress this animal further. I was not interested in framing a captured animal.
From his size and build, he was guessed to be about 3 years old. He was a handsome guy, well built, with healthy and powerful looking canines and every time someone got a little too close to the cage he would roar, heartily expressing his displeasure.
The Vet having traveled a long distance arrived around 4pm. He administered the tranquilizer through a blowpipe and a perimeter was established. Locals gathered in huge numbers to see the leopard being taken out. Some even climbed onto rooftops for a better view as they waited for the medication to kick in.
The forest department staff waited for a go-ahead from the vet before entering the cage. It had begun to rain by now but people were determined to get a glimpse of the young leopard. He was brought out stretched on a wet blanket to keep the body temperature in check and was carried to a cage waiting to transport him to a forest far away. I quickly climbed into the transport vehicle he was being brought to.
Now it was time to wait for the medication to kick in and the crowd was growing by the minute.
The leopard was now safely inside the transport vehicle cage. There it lay right by my side, with its eyes wide open, tranquilized. It was just me, the leopard and two men from the forest Department operating the cage. I could smell his strong feline scent. I looked for injuries – one on his right cheek.
The leopard lay with his eyes wide open and it seemed like he was looking helplessly at me. I knew he was tranquilized.
They lifted his head up one final time and it was one of the most beautiful leopards I had ever seen.
Was this the leopard that actually attacked the girl? Will he survive in the new location he is released into? Will he establish a new territory and roam free or return back home?
To me he will always be the phantom of the night that I got to see for an entire day, unfortunately locked up in a box. This will
remain etched in my memory for a long time and I hope I never get to see another captured animal again.
Reports have clearly indicated that translocation of leopards do not solve but increases conflict. You can find it here.
MOEF has also published guidelines to manage Human-Leopard Conflict.