Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in the zoo, he is the right person to direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!

Do wild animals have a sixth sense like some human beings? The answer is an emphatic ‘Yes’ as I have seen through my years of experience in working with wild animals.

Let me illustrate one of my experiences. One of the most dramatic experience was with a leopard which was brought up by an American lady in Nizamuddin. She had got this animal as a youngster which was brought up in her first floor flat and was used to all sorts of exotic meats which would come in a variety of tins and cans – this was however in addition to the regular buffalo meat: mind you only undercuts. Well, the animal which had almost become full grown once escaped from the flat when the owner had gone on her normal holiday to the hills during the summer. We were roped in by the police to capture it from the top of a Prosopis (very thorny) tree. Without the benefit of any tranquilizer equipment, (we did not have any at that time) we did a good job with nets, ropes, sticks, other rough and ready equipment plus huge amounts of guts and muscle power. The animal was safely brought and kept in one of our holding cages. He (the leopard) was very quiet and would cower in one corner of his enclosure and was on hunger fast in protest against the capture operations. The next day he suddenly became quite active and was pacing up and down quite agitatedly; the reason was not very difficult to unravel –Madam (the owner) had been told of the leopard’s escape by some domestic and had rushed down to Delhi.

She contacted the police and was trying to argue her way with the Sub- Inspector to try and get the animal released. Anyway she wanted to see her pet and brought a policeman-- she was about a furlong from the enclosure when the animal sensed her presence; I am quite sure that he could not have heard her but he was looking forward to seeing his beloved mistress.
Madam got her son to get a court order to get the animal released. The interim period was however spent by the animal sitting on Madam’s lap in my drawing room as I could not afford to have her sit in the cage in full view of our visitors.

You might wonder as to how Madam had got into the cage without my permission- well I am a softy towards feminine tears especially when an animal is involved and the lady requested me to just allow her to pet the animal for a few minutes inside the cage and I like a fool allowed her in but soon she showed her true colours and refused to come out without the leopard – I had to think fast as the number of visitors was growing around the cage; all curious to see the foreigner sitting inside. The only via media was to allow her to sit with her beloved pet in my drawing room where she would not be faced by hordes of zoo visitors. It certainly sent around rumours that we not only exhibited animals but also very special human beings too.

The court, though it released the leopard for a short time, ordered that the animal should be sent back to the zoo and Madam’s pet became one of our long term guests. In spite of the fact that this leopard had started eating the plebeian fare at the zoo, Madam used to bring special treats for her pet like tinned chicken, ham, luncheon meat etc. It was indeed a wonder for me to notice the behaviour of the leopard the minute Madam’s car came into the main gate of the zoo; he would become very agitated and pace furiously even try to jump up at the vertical bars. The main gate was at least one and a half kilometre from its enclosure.

Well, finally Madam got custody of the leopard and took it with her to America, as this occurrence was before the ‘Wild Life laws’ were passed.

She did write a book on her experiences including photographs of my old drawing room playing host to her and her pet. She also wrote and told me that it had become quite difficult to maintain the leopard as meat was really expensive in her home land.

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