The leopard in the above picture is the very embodiment of helplessness and misery. A young subadult, no more than 3 years old, it probably made its way from Rajasthan’s Kumbhalgarh National Park to Rajsamand district’s Sardul Kheda village, where its head
got stuck in a pot, probably while it was looking for water.
This story has a happy ending ; the villagers who found the shell-shocked leopard roaming around with its head trapped in the pot informed the Forest Department, whose personnel tranquilized the leopard and set it free in Kumbhalgarh’s forests.
But numerous incidents of leopard “straying” dont end in the same way; in June this year, a leopard that had entered Tatuarah village in West Bengal’s Purulia district was brutally killed and strung up on a tree. Its paws and tail were hacked off. In August,
another leopard was beaten to death in Assam’s Sivasagar, which has been a hub of man-leopard conflict for a long time.
The Purulia leopard, which met a grisly end.
Pic : deccanchronicle
According to estimates by the NTCA, India’s forests may host 12-14000 leopards,
though there is a lot of debate surrounding the veracity of this figure, as it is based on the arbitrary extrapolation of an estimated population of 7,910 leopards dwelling in tiger habitat.
One of Bandipur’s leopards, captured on a camera-trap unit.
Pic : Ullas Karanth
The most adaptable big cat, leopards are capable of residing in almost every conceivable type of habitat, ranging from the tropical evergreen forests of the Western Ghats and Arunachal Pradesh, to dry scrubland surrounding villages in Rajasthan and Gujarat,
and the tea gardens of Assam and North Bengal. Leopard-human conflict is extremely common, as more and more of them are forced to dwell cheek-by-jowl with humans who destroy their forests and hunt their prey. Panicked residents of cities and villages who spot
the big cat in their midst frequently attack it, without realising that the vast majority of leopards don’t see humans as prey. Untrained, under-equipped and overstretched forest department personnel are often forced to confront bloodthirsty mobs without police
support. The ever-increasing nature of human population means that such incidents are becoming more commonplace.