After a 13-hour rescue operation, three two-month-old leopard cubs were reunited with their mother by forest officials on Sunday at a farm near Vadgaon Rasai village in Shirur district of Maharashtra, almost 80 kilometres from Pune.
The farmers from the village spotted the leopard cubs — two male and a female — huddled together in a sugarcane field during the early hours of Sunday morning.
“We are used to spotting leopards in our field but were surprised to see the cubs all alone,” said a farmer adding, “We immediately informed the forest department.”
A team of seven people from the Junnar forest division and members of Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre (MLRC), a part of non-profit organisation Wildlife SOS, reached the spot and carried out a medical test and began the search for their mother.
According to forest officers, the villagers spotted the mother in the vicinity, and by the evening, the team arranged for the cubs to be returned close to the field where they were first spotted, adjacent to a dense forest.
Veterinarians checked the cubs for ticks and injuries and the examination confirmed that they were healthy. “If a leopard is unable to locate her cubs, she can turn defensive or aggressive, which can result in man-leopard conflict incidents for villagers in the area,” said Dr Ajay Deshmukh, senior veterinarian, MLRC, adding that the group tracked the location where the mother last left the cubs through her pug-marks, left the cubs there and waited till she returned.
Later in the evening, the mother was spotted entering the farm from the forest area to the same spot and on finding that her cubs were safe; she quickly rushed them towards the forest.
“The Shirur region has a significant leopard population and due to the rapid loss of the forest cover, these animals have found safe cover in the dense sugarcane fields,” said SR Unde, forest guard. “Dogs, goats and other livestock, easily available in these areas, make up the prey base for these animals.”
Members of Wildlife SOS said, over the years, more than 40 lost or injured leopard cubs were reunited with their mother by the group from densely forested areas in Maharashtra. “The tall sugarcane fields provide a safe cover for these animals but this also triggers conflict situations when the farmers move into the fields to cut down the stalks,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, cofounder, Wildlife SOS.
Instances of leopard cubs being reunited with their mother
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, 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 of Pune district. It was reunited with its mother after a 10-hour search and rescue operation
May 4, 2015: Wildlife authorities at Narayangaon range in Junnar in Pune district reunited four leopard cubs, separated from their mother early, after treating them at a local rescue centre
‘Man-animal conflicts at Junnar have decreased’
“The population of leopards is more in non-forest areas, which are full of sugarcane and banana farms. Due to the availability of dogs and pigs in the area, they are frequently sighted. However, with several different rescue teams functioning, the number of conflicts has decreased,” said VA Dhokte, deputy conservator of Junnar forests.