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Wildbuzz: Love for leopards

“No Punjab leopard has ever turned maneater, stalked humans in a deliberate fashion and then eaten the body.”

punjab Updated: Feb 18, 2018 15:21 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
A leopard gazes gently from a hiding place among wild blooms.(Praveen Prem Kumar pai)

Do spare a loving thought for our demonised leopards. The “flowery cats” are ideal suitors for a Valentine’s Day dedication. The big cats live in the shadows of forests, slinking in and out of thickets of wild blooms. Their skin markings evoke comparison to dainty rosettes and so in vernacular languages they go by the cute moniker of “phooldhar”.

But ignorant of ground realities and the true lives of these big cats, the media either flashes photographs of leopards cornered by humans and looking murderous or of well-fed and tame-looking specimens locked up “safely” in zoos. Fact is, leopards have been living peacefully in the Punjab wilderness since decades. There is not a single human killed by a leopard, though there have been injury cases arising from accidental encounters or inappropriate human behaviour. No Punjab leopard has ever turned maneater, stalked humans in a deliberate fashion and then eaten the body. And this despite the fact that leopards live all along the Shivaliks, even near villages in the jungles a few miles from the tricity.

The willingness of leopards to co-exist is underscored by a study, ‘Leopard presence in human use landscapes of Punjab’. Authored by Jairoop Riar and Vidya Athreya, the study was submitted to the Forests and Wildlife Preservation Department. Contrary to popular imagination, leopards were found to be neither hyper-aggressive nor prone to habitual attacks. “Attacks on people were reported but all appear to have occurred because of inappropriate behaviour... On August 7, 2014, three people, including a mediaperson, were injured at Ratta Khera (Sangrur), during a rescue operation when they insisted on taking images of the leopard even after being prevented by forest guards,’’ the study stated.

Till recently, the department turned a deaf ear to the leopard’s side of the story. Leopards were declared “problem animals” and locked away in zoos. However, a review of that one-sided policy was carried out by the department in September 2017 and it resulted in the first-ever release of a leopard caught from a Hoshiarpur village. The case of another leopard captured from Kang village (Tarn Taran) on December 25, 2017, is under similar review for a tryst with wild freedom. Long live leopard love!

Kachnar flowers at Sukhna lake; and (right) striped tiger butterflies on a Papri tree in the lake’s jungles. ( Chandan Bhardwaj & Vikramjit Singh )


In an arc of Kachnar trees does winter drape the Sukhna lake’s promenade with the richness of magenta. The blooms are a rarity in the subdued landscape, crept over by tawny, khaki and olive green hues. In vivid contrast to the Kachnar blooms and heart or butterfly-shaped leaves are the bare limbs proffered by Silk cotton (Semul), Gulmohar and Jacaranda trees. They await tinges of warmth to flush their cheeks with passionate red and teasing lilac.

Under the Kachnar trees spreads a micro-mosaic of moss, puddles, weeds, grasses, fallen leaves and Kachnar blooms, some scampering like hares into the refuge of ‘Morphankis’ when hounded by icy, northern winds. Visitors, walkers, joggers, idlers and stray dogs trample over the abegging abundance of blooms while lovers prefer cellophane-wrapped roses. But little do they know that Kachnar blooms emit a light fragrance as distinct as eau de cologne, matching perfectly magenta’s elegance. So, next time at the lake, lift a forgotten flower to your nostrils and inhale the magic of nature’s perfumery; it comes deep from the Kachnar womb.

Authoritative books on Chandigarh’s trees do not delve into the history of the Kachnars. So, I asked HS Johl, tree author, horticulturist and the man who headed the UT landscape division in the formative decades of the 1960s and 1970s. “The Sukhna’s Kachnar is known as the Hong Kong Orchid tree (Bauhinia blakeana). These came to the Sukhna courtesy the desire of late MS Randhawa, the then UT chief commissioner. Randhawa’s passion for trees was legendary and people from India and abroad would gift him tree saplings. He would take great pains to import new species. Sukhna’s Kachnars were imported from East Asia and arose from grafts and not seeds. They were planted around 1968 under my supervision. The Kachnar is ideal for decorative purposes as it relieves the winter bleakness that besieges buildings, parks etc,” said Johl.

(The autor can be contacted at

First Published: Feb 18, 2018 15:21 IST