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Over a Barrel

Over a Barrel

The earliest known leopard Panthera pardus fossil, discovered in Laetoli, Tanzania, dates back 3.8 million years. The spotted cats are believed to have found their way to Eurasia about 900,000 years ago. The leopard, lion, tiger, jaguar, snow leopard and even the clouded leopard are related. Though no one has yet discovered any fossil evidence of the immediate ancestor that links all these beautiful creatures, mitochondrial gene sequencing suggests that speciation began around six million years ago. 


Able to live undetected close to human habitation, leopards have managed to colonise an incredibly wide range of habitats ranging from deserts and arid scrub and grasslands to mountains and dense forests. This includes the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) in Mumbai, which is ringed by filthy garbage dumps on which dogs feed and breed.  The SGNP leopards have learned to take advantage of the virtually unending supply of food in the form of dogs that they can very easily catch. As a result, leopard numbers have risen way beyond the normal carrying capacity of comparable forests, where leopards must hunt wild herbivores and other ground-dwelling wild species to survive. 

When they leave the forest in search of dogs, leopards come into conflict with humans, often with tragic consequences for both. This is the root cause of Mumbai’s infamous “leopard problem.” ‘Solutions’ from experts have ranged from “shoot the leopards,” to “shoot the dogs.” But no effort has been made to implement the more ecologically sensible (but admittedly more difficult) option of eliminating garbage, so that the population of dogs falls. Strict protection within the park would simultaneously enhance the population of wild herbivores, thus restoring a balance in paradise.

The leopard is an amazingly adaptable and graceful cat. Leopards climbing down trees have been compared to silk handkerchiefs descending. What a far cry from the unfortunate individual depicted on this page, which literally and figuratively found itself over a barrel after being battered to death on the outskirts of Kaziranga, Assam. Unmindful of the photographer, the police officials from the Teok Police Station who were given charge of the body promptly hacked off the claws to claim the nails that once helped this ‘silk handkerchief’ to ascend and descend trees. Play best friv games this site juegos friv online games.

Bittu Sahgal

April 2008


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