It felt wonderful when the news first broke. I could now casually tell people, “Ah yes, I live in Delhi, and not 20 minutes away from an area where a wild leopard is hunting wild nilgai, and, possibly, wild boar too!” What is even more astonishing, is that if anyone had said that one day, a leopard would be spotted in this area, some 14 years ago — when the Yamuna Biodiversity Park project got off the ground — you would immediately have helped that poor soul into a straitjacket and sent him or her packing to the nearest psychiatric emergency unit. So yes, a major miracle has been wrought here, because they turned what was only good as a tank-testing ground into a haven where even leopards feel at (and try to make a) home.
At the time of writing, though, it seems as though the leopard is in trouble. The powers that be want it out of there. They fear it might get after the local “pamerians”, dogs and goats and after that, who knows, women and children. One thing is certain. If that animal is spotted by the aam junta, all hell will break loose. There have been a sickeningly high number of cases of leopards being lynched by mobs and this poor beast is going to be no exception. For all our sanctimonious hectoring to the world about ahimsa, being a “tolerant” society and loving animals for the last 5,000 years, our behaviour and general attitude towards them is anything but. And any animal that is chased, stoned and cornered, whether it is a rat or a rhino, will fight to the death, simply because it has no option. In this case, it’s rather like first inviting someone to be a chief guest at a function, and when that person graciously accepts and arrives — set the bouncers on him or her. I must hasten to add here, that in this case, those who issued the invitation were absolutely not the ones who have set the bouncers on the VIP guest.
Ah, you may say, it’s all very well to take the side of the leopard — you live 20 minutes away from it and are not likely to ever encounter it. What about those who are its next-door neighbours, who must contend with its threat and presence every day; whose innocent children must be getting nightmares thinking about it and so not wanting to go to school? Well, we have to contend with all kinds of neighbours as well as the overweening presence (and lectures) of the government and manic drivers et al every hour of every day. Don’t we get nightmares about them too — and survive? The leopard is a reclusive animal and doesn’t exactly like the limelight so it’s not very likely to come knocking on someone’s door asking if it could borrow a cup of sugar (It might borrow Sweety though, if Sweety yaps at it too much). As long as it gets enough wild prey and is left undisturbed, it’ll stay where it can find that. Besides, there are so many people living in the hills and mountains (and hill stations) who have leopards as their immediate neighbours and none of them gets eaten.
A little wildlife haven has been created at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, which was the intention of the whole project — to recreate the natural environments found along the Yamuna basin. With the arrival of a predator, sitting on top of the food chain, well the job is done — that really was the final “deliverable” of the project. The leopard (and its family if it is able to have one) will keep the population of nilgai, wild boar, stray dogs and hares in check, which otherwise will breed as rampantly as us and become as destructive.
Perhaps, the presence of the leopard can be used to improve the security of the area as a whole. Boards with skull-and-crossbones signs can be put up, warning: “Beware, leopard on the prowl. Keep fingers on lips at all times, do not litter and do not wander about unescorted: you may be eaten!” And to ensure that people listen and behave, conceal a few speakers in the high grass which play a deep-throated growl from time to time. This may even summon the real animal and no further warning will need to be given, ever.
If this poor animal is caught to be relocated, where could it be released? Well, umm… I have an idea. How about the Kamala Nehru Ridge in north Delhi? (Only five minutes away from where I live and the CM will be living in its “backside”, as Delhizens like to put it.) There’s a very simple reason I’ve chosen this place. Here, too, there’s plenty of natural prey. But there are no nilgai or sambhar, or chital or wild boar on the northern Ridge, you might argue. No, of course not! But there is that other leopard favourite and delicacy and as much of it as any leopard can wish for — monkeys! Hundreds of them, all sizes and weights. Everywhere! A swipe here and a swipe there, and they’ll be tumbling down from the trees like confetti. And, we’ll have solved the monkey menace problem in one fell swoop in an eco-sensitive way!
As for the team at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park: you’ve got the leopard, great job. Now, here’s another “deliverable”: Go for tiger!
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and birdwatcher.