In a first ever photo documentation of a rescue operation, two 20-day-old leopard cubs – a male and a female – were reunited with their mother on Wednesday night at sugarcane fields near Somatwadi village, near Pune. The entire operation was filmed.
Farmers spotted the cubs while working in the fields on Wednesday morning. Forest officials moved the cubs away from the area to avoid a situation where the mother could run into people while searching for her babies.
“It is not uncommon to spot leopards in this area, as there are sugarcane fields that provide safe cover to the cats. But this also gives rise to conflict situations when farmers harvest the sugarcane,” said Sanjay Gaikwad, forest officer from the area. “We received a distress call from the village and a team was dispatched.”
Forest officials, veterinarians form Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre (MLRC) and representatives from NGO Wildlife SOS reached the place to help the cubs. “After conducting a meticulous veterinary examination for parasites and injuries, the cubs were found to be in good health and fit for release,” said Dr Ajay Deshmukh, senior veterinarian, MLRC.
Forest officers were informed that an adult female leopard had been spotted in the vicinity. After they were sure that this was the mother, the team put the cubs in boxes and placed them in the field where the leopard was last seen. “We also placed two remote controlled camera traps to document the cubs and the reunion,” said Gaikwad.
After a two-and-half-hour wait, the team heard the mother’s calls as it looked for her cubs. “After checking her cubs, she carefully carried them by the scruff of the neck and moved back into the forest,” said Deshmukh. “Over the past eight years, we have seen many rescue operations but for the first time, witnessing a leopard family being reunited was an emotional moment for us.”
Over the past eight years, the state forest department has successfully reunited 60 leopard cubs with their mothers that were lost, injured or separated.
Forest officers added that female leopards find the tall and densely cultivated sugarcane fields good sites to give birth to and rear cubs. “The issue is that when they go hunting, they leave their babies behind,” said Gaikwad.
Past instances of leopard cubs being reunited with their mother
January 9, 2017 - A three-month-old female leopard cub was rescued from a sugarcane field at Nasik, Maharashtra. After several attempts by the forest department to reunite the cub with its mother went in vain, forest officials transferred the cub to the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Center that currently houses 32 leopards.
November 14, 2016 - In a 13-hour rescue operation, three two-month-old leopard cubs were successfully reunited with their mother by forest officials on Sunday at a farm near Vadgaon Rasai village, in Shirur, almost 80 kilometres away from Pune.
September 17, 2016 - A one-and-half-month-old male leopard cub, separated from its mother, was rescued and reunited from a sugarcane field near Sangamner, Ahmednagar district, by forest officials.
July 5, 2015 – Forest officials rescued a three-month-old leopard cub from a dry well at Vadgaon Anand village in Junnar taluka, Pune district and reunited it with the mother after a 10-hour rescue operation.
May 4, 2015 - Wildlife authorities at Narayangaon range in Junnar reunited four leopard cubs separated from their mother early, after treating them at a local rescue centre.
(Source: Maharashtra Forest Department)