Wildbuzz: Why leopards sniff cities and change their spots
Leopard incursions into cities and villages tempt people and media to entertain erroneous notions. They believe the big cats have either got “lost and strayed” or harbour evil intentions as wolfish child lifters. But a scientific assessment of the 16 leopards rescued since 2010 in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh by the Chhatbir Zoo team led by senior veterinary officer, Dr MP Singh, throws up a pattern. Of the 16 leopards, only two were females, and that, too, sub-adults. The rest were sub-adult males, barring one large, adult specimen rescued from a cable pipe running under an Indian Air Force runway outside Chandigarh in 2012.
“Sub-adults are those that have either not reached breeding age or are verging on sexual maturity. Their canines are sharp-tipped whereas adults tend to exhibit blunted canines due to extensive grappling with prey meat and bones. Sub-adults tend to move out of established domains of bigger leopards and find new territory for prey and females. It may be said that a kind of youthful ‘josh’ leads sub-adults to wander into risky zones such as human settlements for the twin purposes,” Dr Singh told this writer.
I also sought a perspective from Vidya Athreya, India’s leading authority on leopard-human conflict, official consultant to state/Central governments and an exemplary field biologist. “For biological reasons, such as to avoid inbreeding, sub-adult male leopards travel very far to establish new domains. Just as within a village, marriages are prohibited to avoid inbreeding, sub-adult leopard males, too, leave their birth places and venture out as it averts breeding with their parents etc. That way, by moving outwards from the jungle’s heart towards the peripheries, they also avoid conflict with dominant leopard males and even tigers,” Athreya told this writer.
A POETESS OF COVID IRONY
Photographs and videos of animals roaming the curfewed streets of Covid-19 have gone viral on social media and spurred the besieged human imagination. It has also led the more articulate to express, in art and verses, their euphoria at Nature getting a reprieve from their fellow humanity’s onslaught, however, fleeting that honeymoon may be. Young Aishwarya Sridhar (23) from Navi Mumbai is a winner of national and international awards for her documentaries, photographs and work to promote wildlife conservation and environmental awareness. Mum and Dad, Rani and Sridhar Ranganathan, are nature lovers and the family only ventures to jungles for holidays! Aishwarya is a compulsive storyteller and a wandering bard who has penned 200 poems fragrant with Nature’s wonder.
Her latest poem to commemorate Earth Day (April 22) is seeped in empathy and a delicious sense of irony: “Thick Iron bars once caged me, But luckily I managed to get free, How awesome it feels to breathe fresh air, I am finally free from all despair. I cautiously placed my paws on the ground, But surprisingly the humans were not around, Till yesterday they were outside my cage, Peering...jeering...and mocking my rage. Suddenly now not even one was there, The streets were empty and totally bare, Finally I spotted them peering at me, Behind high grills like the sad monkey...Whatever the reason that traps them in, It’s a reward for their crimes and their sin, Hope at least now they will realise, That they must never torture other lives.”