Stuck With Humans
Photo Credit: Pranay Chandra.
When I launched Sanctuary in 1981, a quiet wildlife man, S.P. Shahi, Chief Wildlife Warden of Bihar, said to me: “While our focus is on the tiger, we might soon lose the leopard because it does not know that humans are to be avoided at all costs.” Kailash Sankhala used to tell me something similar: “With every forest we destroy, the conflict between leopards and humans will accelerate.” Dr. Sálim Ali, M. Krishnan, M.K. Dharmakumarsinhji, Humayun Abdulali… all wildlife greats were of the same opinion.
Little is gained now by saying they were prophetic. In those heady days for Indian wildlife, with the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi throwing her incredible political clout behind wild nature, we could still not get the system to act responsibly to avoid potential conflict. Today with economists running rampant through India, even what little restraint we once had has been thrown to the winds. So much so, that the Central Empowered Committee appointed by the Supreme Court for forest matters itself, buckled under pressure to opine that the ‘safe zones’ around our most precious biodiversity vaults may be reduced to as little as 100 m. in some cases.
Like moths to a flame, humans are now consuming forests at a frightening pace. This means less space, less food and more stress for wild animals that must negotiate survival on terms that evolution never prepared them to deal with.
And this image, taken by Col. Pranay Chandra, a wildlife defender par excellence, was taken at the Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) campus in Mysore and actually had a relatively-less traumatic ending than might be expected.
Leopards often visit the campus and easily jump the boundary fence. At seven a.m. on August 27, 2012, the Colonel stepped out in the hope of photographing a wild leopard and was devastated instead, to see this tragic scene. In all likelihood the cat probably slipped off the boundary pillar and impaled herself on the spikes. Col. Chandra alerted the forest officials who managed to tranquillise the cat, treat its wounds, which turned out to be superficial and release it within a couple of days. The BEML staff confirms that she was, in fact, reunited with two small cubs and she continues to frequent the campus.
But the BEML staff is exceptionally sensitive. The same cannot be said for most people whose first impulse is fear, followed by aggression towards wild leopards, who are, sadly, stuck with humans... their neighbours from hell!
by Bittu Sahgal, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXII No. 6, December 2012