There was great excitement in my Grandparents' Nashik house one day because a wild leopardess and her cubs had been spotted by the security guards. My grandparents' house is one in a compound of twelve bungalows, set on the banks of a lake and surrounded by grapevines and tomato farms. Shortly after the leopard sighting, the security guard's dog, Tommy, who was the pet of the compound wandering from porch to porch in search of a willing human playmate, went missing. After days of searching high and low, we feared that maybe he had been caught by the leopardess. I still remember all the residents upset at losing Tommy (as was I), and nervous at the idea of leopards in our midst. There were calls for the leopardess and her cubs to be removed at once, and we contacted both the Maharashtra Forest Department and Wildlife SOS to help us do this safely. In the end though, both the Forest Department and Wildlife SOS advised us that it wasn't safe to remove a mother with cubs, as great harm could come to them if we intervened at this delicate life stage. So instead, we had to learn to live with them, with adequate precautions (read past blog on how to live with leopards); ensuring sufficient space for both species to survive and thrive. Three months later, as the cubs grew older, the leopardess and her family moved away on their own and life returned to normal.
Top to Bottom: (1) My sketch of the Leopard family in Nasik (c) Ayan Kamath Mehra, (2) Security Camera footage of the Leopard Family
As an animal lover from an urban background, Nashik's leopardess was my first encounter with wildlife outside the safety of a safari. Importantly, it was also my first personal experience with potential human-wildlife conflict. This is why solving this issue holds a special place in my heart.
So to end 2023, with the help of supporters of @ayansartforconservation, I was able to adopt the Wildlife SOS leopard Ganesh, a not-so-lucky victim of human-wildlife conflict in another village in Maharashtra.
Ganesh (c) Wildlife SOS
Ganesh is currently residing in the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, after being rescued from a small village in Maharashtra. At the time of rescue, he was a young leopard - just 3 years old. He wandered into the village in search of food, but was instead met with an angry mob, which - out of fear - wounded him very badly. If not for the swift action of Wildlife SOS and the Indian Forest Department, he likely would have died. Unfortunately, when he was rushed back to the Wildlife SOS facility, it was clear his wounds were extremely severe. Further, many of his wounds, including one of his eyes was badly infected. Wildlife SOS had to surgically remove one of his eyes just to ensure that the infection wouldn't spread. This left him permanently blind, as the other eye had an advanced cataract.
L to R: Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre (c) Wildlife SOS
Luckily, and despite all his past trauma, Ganesh is a very easy leopard to work with, says the Wildlife SOS staff. He was very trusting of the nurses and vets that cared for him, and they in turn adapted their care routine to adjust to his sightless condition by creating special enrichment activities. Ganesh acclimatized to the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre swiftly.
In fact, he made a close friend - a male leopard called Vitthal. Ganesh's personality is the complete 'antithesis' to Vitthal's personality, and like with humans, perhaps this is why these opposites attract. It is uncommon for adult male leopards to bond in the wild, but the unusual and unfortunate circumstances that bring leopards like Ganesh and Vitthal to a rescue center can create unlikely and special friendships.
Ganesh & Vithhal (c) Wildlife SOS, Click arrow to see more images
Ganesh's story is extremely sad. Yet, in it, there is a glimmer of hope. After the angry mob, the Wildlife SOS team was able to help him. This shows how the meeting of humans and animals doesn't always have to be confrontational. Mankind should be responsible to restore nature that we have irresponsibly ruined. Wildlife SOS is spearheading this task through amazing rehabilitation stories like that of Ganesh the leopard. By learning to live with leopards like my grandparents and their neighbors did, by adopting rescued animals, or telling their stories, each one of us can be part of the solution.