The people of Navalewadi village in Pune district awoke to the panic-stricken roars of a leopard on Tuesday morning. A healthy two-year-old female leopard had been splashing around in a 25-feet-deep well, and seemed exhausted. The villagers alerted the forest department.

A team of four, comprising forest staff joined by members of NGO Wildlife SOS was dispatched to the spot. Villagers in the area, which has a healthy leopard population, have already been trained in co-existence with the big cat by the state forest department and Wildlife SOS. Even before the team arrived in the village, people had lowered a bamboo ladder into the well so the big cat could clamber atop it for some respite from the constant splashing.

The Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre in this area has seen a busy season – this is the time of year when sugarcane is harvested in this area. With forest areas shrinking, leopards have been seeking out the safety of sugarcane fields – the tall stalks close to harvest offer good cover. This is also the season when cubs are born, and about 12 cubs that villagers have found in the past few months have been brought to the rescue centre before being released back to be reunited with mothers.

Once villagers find the cubs, they are not left in the fields because stray dogs and other creatures looking for prey might get to the cubs. The little cubs are taken to the leopard rescue centre, where veterinarian Dr Nikhil Bangar examines them for ticks or injuries. They are also tagged at the centre before being released back.

The leopard that fell into the well had minor injuries sustained in the fall. “Open wells are a threat to wildlife … animals end up drowning,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS. Range forest officer Yogesh Ghodake said, “Animals trapped in such situations are already under great stress, so we have to plan for their safety and comfort as we rescue them.”

Rosamma Thomas is a freelance journalist


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