Kalyan Varma

A Day with a Leopard

I’m currently in Valparai, Tamil Nadu doing some work with the Nature Conservation Foundation folks. Lot of events this week, which I shall write about later.

Few weeks ago, an old lady was injured from what was reported as an attack by a leopard in this town. There was no conclusive evidence, but the forest department was pressurized to setup Leopard traps outside the town to catch this Leopard. Valparai is surrounded by Tea estates and forest fragments and leopard sightings are quite common.

Anyway this morning we got a call that a leopard was caught in one of the traps.

By the time Anand (NCF researcher) and me reached the place, there were already a lot of people who had come to see the leopard. There were housewives, kids, estate workers, grandmothers.. you name it and they were there to see the leopard. Soon we realized the situation was getting out of hand. People were getting close to the cage and hassling the leopard, which in turn was getting very agitated and hurting itself againt the bars.

I stopped photographing at this point. Not only that we had to do something, me trying to photograph was also getting people ticked off. Both of us along with 2 forest guards started talking to people and were trying to keep them away at a distance from the cage. We covered the cage with a lot of bushes so that the leopard cannot see all the people around.

The leopard was already quite badly injured because of all the banging and was highly stressed out.

Eventually Divya and Sridhar from NCF also joined us and all of us along with help from the fire dept and the forest department were trying to keep people away from the leopard till the Vet arrived from Coimbatore which was 3 hours away. We took a lot of abuses and got into issues with local VIP’s who thought they had every right to come and see and poke the leopard. Eventually the Vet came in by 2pm and already the there were hundreds of people around with all the press and all.

As you can see the leopard was badly wounded and it was very close to dying because of all the stress with people around. After 2 misses, the vet got it right and darted the leopard.

Within minutes, it went down and rested it head on the floor. I just got down and with a zoom lens and thanks to a gap in the leaves around the cage, I just locked my focus on the leopard and kept on shooting.

A tear rolled down its eye and the leopard slowly went down. I cocooned myself from the whole crowd as the cops were taking care of them and I could not see anything but the face of the leopard through the camera. I just broke down at this point and walked away. Could not see all the people going crazy and this poor leopard in that cage in that state. All the screaming, pleading, arguing did not help at all.

Eventually the drug took its effect and the forest dept moved it out to a truck. People started climbing the truck etc as if this was some state funeral for the president. We kept on kicking / throwing away people to keep them away from the leopard. Eventually the truck drove off towards Top Slip and hopefully at the end of the day it will be released safely. Ofcourse I dont know if the leopard will make it. Its stressed out too much and being in a new place, it will have a very tough initial few days.

Today was one of those days when I had to put down my camera and help the situation than try to document it. Felt like went though a war zone and survived.

Update : The leopard did make it alive it seems. Hope it manages in the wild at Top Slip.

44 Responses to “A Day with a Leopard”

  1. Anonymous says:

    No words to express……But i just hope it survives ….

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is a very sad scene. People live in such close quarters to the jungle, I thought, at least they understand what is going on. This is very bad state of affairs.

    Just wondering, if it was caught there ( looking at the position of the cage…just few meters from the town limits), is there a chance that it may return? What might be the reason for such a man-animal conflict? Lack of prey base?

    I just wish the leopard survives…

    -Pramod Viswanath

  3. admin says:

    They released it atleast 40 KM away.. and its not marked.. so we can never know if it stayed there, or tried to get back.

    The Leopards do not harm humans.. they have enough prey base in the fragments.. its just that they live close to human settlements.

  4. anushsh says:

    Very touching. I just hope that the leopard survives.

  5. What a majestic creature and how shabbily have we treated it.
    Glad that someone at least tried to argue its case. Thank you.
    Hope it’s a survivor……..
    Never fails to amaze me that we, with every advantage on our side, instead of protecting our fellow creatures with whom we share the planet do the exact opposite.

  6. ashwin67 says:

    “The bastard photographers using their mini point-and-shoots were going too close to the cage and poking the leopard so that they can get an aggressive photograph.”

    I thought atleast these guys would be sensitive to such issues. I just hope our wild animals survive till the day when people become sensitive enough.

  7. Anonymous says:

    i really hope the poor leopard survives…. i feel so sorry and helpless….

  8. balaji says:

    Felt very sad reading this. These people dont understand. That is the problem. They are so much used to gather around to see what is happening :-(

    How are you managing in TN? Do you know Tamil?
    -balaji

  9. Probably its the ignorance of the people. Atleast trying to educate them is the least people and the forest department guys can do.

    Appreciate the pains you guys took to save the poor creature.
    Hope it does survive.

  10. chaibacca says:

    I can almost feel the frustration

    Quite an amazing story — thanks for sharing. The end result, the recount of your experience as well as a few perhaps sub-prime photos, is probably still better than if you had just focused on shooting the whole time. Quite moving.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Not surprised

    I’m not surprised by what you saw. The vast majority of people, Indians included, are frankly ignorant and that’s what you saw today. Add to that a lack of self control and you get chaos (e.g. Tirupati). I remember there was a story a month back about how a bunch of villagers in the Sunderbans started stoning a Tigress who they eventually were able to rescue and re-release it (http://www.ibnlive.com/news/prey-why-pregnant-tigress-hounded-by-villagers/59270-3.html).

    So, judging by these acts, I’m really not surprised, in fact, it’s to be expected. Ignorance trumps all. It’s sad that in a country of such beauty, you have so many people who fail to realize and see what’s around them. Furthermore, if people were smart, they’d stop killing these animals for their furs, paws, etc. and push eco-tourism like crazy. I saw over 60-70 British tourists in Bandhavgarh this February in one day alone, the off-season to see a tiger, and you know they each spent a lot to get to there to see a tiger. A tiger is worth far more alive than dead, as is the same for many of India’s other endangered big cats. But looking at it through their eyes, villagers rarely reap the payouts of such initiatives and in the end they remain where there are. It’d be great to do an experiment where the villagers themselves were intimately entwined in protecting the animals and promoting them.

    It’s an uphill battle.

    Kiran Venkatesh (USA)

  12. Anonymous says:

    It is unfortunate and shocking to see the extent of insensitivity that human beings often demonstrate. It must have been stressful for you to have witnessed this.

  13. wild_guy says:

    A Very unfortunate incident!!! I just hope the leopard makes it. What can be done to educate people? I just cannot figure out…
    -Krish

  14. sunson says:

    … All because the leopards couldn’t setup a trap to catch humans that attack them and their territory.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful work

    Unfortunate creature. Hope it survives. Thanks for doing the bit for the helpless animal.

    I stumbled upon your photo gallery and liked it very much. It was a wonderful treat. Thanks.

    Keep up the good work.

    Uthaya kumar

    PS: really very sad to know of the demise of Yuthi the super man. You had mentioned he was excited about his impending marriage and he died so soon.

  16. admin says:

    I can understand bits of Tamil now and can curse a little too. Was mostly managing with english mixed with tamil+kannada. Seems to work most of the time though.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Sad

    Sorry to hear this. Without being there I can Imagine and visualize everything that you have narrated. We have a long way to go!

    What I am happy about is the Leopard seems to be recovering.

    Good work mate!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Re: Sad

    Forgot to add my name

    Jayanth Sharma

  19. anoopts says:

    Thanks to NCF and You

    Thanks a lot to You and NCF for handling the situation in a much better way. It is very sad to hear that people are very much illiterate in these issues and politics and media acts foolishly without letting the issue being handled smoothly, making a menace and harming the cat.

    Thanks for the update too, Happy to hear that leopard has survived these conditions.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Horrifying

    *Tears*

    I am just too horrified to say anything. It’s typical of India and its people to think that they are the only creatures who have any right to live in this world and all the other creatures should be killed. Simply horrifying. And in such situations,humans behave in a more brutal and savage manner than the wild beasts themselves. Sheer ignorance and selfishness!

    - Gowri.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Re: Thanks to NCF and You

    All the villagers should be whipped to death , they cant mind their own business, that is why the wildlife is almost extinct in Tamil nadu because of these buffalo brained idiots..Iam sure there was a delay oin transporting the leapord to a safe place and the anilam eventua;;y got stressed… I feeling like killing all those people.

    This is really sad… BUT THIS IS INDIA!!
    Thank you so much Kalyan .. I am really grateful to U and NCF

    Karthik

  22. Very touchy … ! I can understand what you would have gone throu’ there ! tuff times..! ..will pray for the leopard to recover fully and get into wild

  23. Anonymous says:

    “The bastard photographers using their mini point-and-shoots were going too close to the cage and poking the leopard so that they can get an aggressive photograph.”

    “We took a lot of abuses and got into issues with local VIP’s who thought they had every right to come and see and poke the leopard.”

    Morons of the first order.

    -Vivek Tulsidas

  24. achitnis says:

    In this case, I suspect “bastard photographers” == “people with cameras, but no sense”

  25. ebony_nivory says:

    My way of sharing the sorrow was to leave a comment here.
    I just hope the leopard made it in the wild.
    Nature is so much more stronger than we think, and who better to know that than you! :)

  26. ranjinisk says:

    Your piece about the leopard is so touching.Very often I skip articles in the papers on the state of our animals.They make me feel so sad.On the one hand we Indians are known for our warmth & hospitality- on the other we can be so cruel.Cannot reconcile the two.I do hope the leopard has survived.
    Your article on Yuthi the superman also hit hard-was not prepared for the end:(

  27. Anonymous says:

    Painful

    Such a painful thing. Just imagining the situation and pain during that time. Praying for the cat to recover and get back to its home.

    -Pradyumna

  28. Anonymous says:

    Nothing much to comment!!!!

    Hello,

    This type of incidents may be many of which only some get recorded. Hats Off to Kalyan for showing immense courage in facing those villagers. Also the term “Bastard Photographers” is highly appropriate. These bastards get into such gimmicks just to grab attention. It is such a pity that, in this world, words like sympathy,empathy and humanity have lost flavour.

    Karthik Narayan

  29. Anonymous says:

    Happens many a times..
    More so in Borivili National Park, and there leopards prey on children and cattle.
    I guess it’s much less in southern India.

    Sad that India has such good biodiversity and has to cope with population explosion for its sustenance.

    -Sandeep

  30. Anonymous says:

    Human beings are the most disgusting animals…no matter what we are barbarians when it comes to animals…wild or otherwise.

  31. sgowtham says:

    F@$#ing mob mentality – hope to see some day when we have grown out of it and behave as normal humans – appreciating things around us in silence and peace….

    Hope the leopard survives….

  32. Anonymous says:

    It’s amazing to me how we have built a cultuere where the norm is a human-centric (in) sensibility. Still, the villagers were there on the perceived idea of the leopard having hardmed one of them first. I’m sure none of them thought that our very development and procreation has harmed the leopard out of it’s home to begin with.

    I suppose the village would have treated a local villain much much worse. So at least they paid tribute to the leopard in their attention to him.

    Your empathy is very appealing. Glad that it survived. Wonder what the leopard memory is like…

  33. It’s amazing to me how we have built a culture where the norm is a human-centric (in)sensibility. Still, the villagers were there on the perceived idea of the leopard having hardmed one of them first. I’m sure none of them thought that their very development and procreation has harmed the leopard out of it’s home to begin with.

    I suppose the village would have treated a local villain much much worse. So at least they paid tribute to the leopard in their attention to him.

    Your empathy is very appealing. Glad that it survived. Wonder what the leopard memory is like…

  34. Anonymous says:

    painful to see the leopard struggle… appalling attitude by (some) people at the helm viewing the caged beast as some freak show… even more saddening to see masses disrespecting and abusing the leopard :(
    I am ashamed of not doing anything apart from merely typing some stuff on the internet…
    Indebted to you and the NCF guys for doing your part !! Thanks.

    Anand Narayanan

  35. Anonymous says:

    wild life concern: Aslam Jamadar

    Its great relief that Leopard was servived. Otherwise like in most of
    the stories, I see that cruel villagers will not at all leave the animal
    alive. Also it gives me great relief when ever i get to know about persons who really have concern about wild life animals.

    A nature lover

  36. deponti says:

    Just hope that the leopard survives….many just cannot take the shock of such an event and die later…if this is so frustrating for us to read, I can imagine how you must have felt.

  37. avinash_kj says:

    Kindly keep us posted as and when you are updated about this guy.
    I feel very sad for this. Probably one of the worst case scenarios a wildlife lover can ever experience! This is not the first incidence where leopards get so very close to Humans and get into trouble. An identical incident had happened close to chikmagalur dist a few months back, where i was a dumb spectator!!!

  38. Anonymous says:

    cubs ??

    was is a he or a she… in case if its a female did you guys try to find out if it had cubs ?? I am not conversant with the breeding cycle of leopards… but maybe she has cubs around that need to be saved !! am sure you guys would of thought of it .. but just in case..

    the poor thing looks young.. may be it was just trying to stake out a territory of its own :(

    Anand Narayanan

  39. Anonymous says:

    Man-Animal conflict or Animal-Man conflict?

    Hi Promod,
    I am an avid wild-life fan, and it amuses me how anyone would ask such a question. No offence, but the answer to your Q on the reason for man-animal conflict is this: ‘Its their home’. We move in, and try to shove them outta the way. Thats the reason for conflict. With the ever-expanding cities and towns, not to mention the ‘tourist’ hill stations, is it any wonder that more such incidents are in the offing?

    Not to a very great extent, but the tribals in most parts of the world still know co-habitation better than the supposedly ‘knowledgable, cultured’ savages that we all represent.

    And this is a global phenomenon, and not limited to just India. In the US, there is an annual Rattlesnake ‘Festival’ in which purses, shoes, belts, etc. made of rattlesnake skin are sold. Not just that, the event’s star-attraction is the live skinning of rattlers amid cheers from the audience! The supporters of this event and its attendees justify the event by quoting the number of people killed every year by rattlesnake bites. Who will tell thez fools that more rattlesnake bites means requiring more anti-venom to treat them, which translates into the reason to keep more rattlers alive!
    (Just for the record, rattlesnake venom is among the deadliest of ‘em all, and the anti-venom for any venom can be made only from it.)

    Bravo, kalyan for the good effort.

    -Ramesh Viswanadha

  40. Anonymous says:

    The Indian psyche

    before you read too much into the subject and continue bashing the villagers, I’d like to say something in their defence.

    I dont think its a matter of man encroaching the forest here as much as in what already existed a few decades ago. tea plantations have been around since the British era. you’re best bet is educating the people on animal behaviour and animal-human interactions. while man may be brutal beyond means, there are several instances of where such programs have resulted in good coming about.

    you have done a commendable job from your writings and with the people at NCF, there is no reason to see why this behaviour in people cannot change. Eventually, its the people of the area that will decide the fate of the flora and fauna around, not armchair experts like myself and the ilk.

    rahul

  41. iodine_au says:

    Quite a sad sight..

  42. Anonymous says:

    Re: Not surprised

    Yes they’re ignorant, but what do you expect? Do they have the opportunities and outlooks that many of us have been blessed with? Of course not and it’s not their fault. Until people are empowered and given the necessities that they need to survive, especially proper education, this will be the norm in many parts of rural India.

  43. bijoyv says:

    Touching

    Kalyan,
    As always, I’m moved by your conscience.
    I have made an entry about this on my blog:
    http://thegreenogre.blogspot.com/2008/09/leopard-village-and-photographers.html

    best,
    Bijoy

  44. [...] in conservation fetched him the Sanctuary Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award in 2005, produced a telling photo-essay about a leopard captured in a trap set by forest officials in Valparai in the Anamalais, Tamil [...]

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