Sometimes I forget the life-giving and nurturing force of the powerful and sometimes equally destructive monsoon. I left a bone-dry landscape when I departed to Europe and found a stunning, lush green scenery after my return to our Himalayan village. My garden had turned into a wild jungle and the young trees had visibly been growing taller in a very short time.
Due to the high grown grass we had a lot of leopard presence lately. They seem to feel more secure, as the thicket allows them to hide themselves easily. They also turned bolder when it comes to approaching houses in search of easy prey.
One night Baba drove home from our coffee shop late at night, as usually together with our dog Lamboo who used to run along with him right next to the motorbike. The guest who was staying at our house at that time was sitting behind Baba.
They had almost reached home when Baba saw a leopard lurking in between the grass on the road side and in the blink of an eye Lamboo was suddenly gone!
I could hear the howling down to our house. Our guest did not see anything from his position and as he is deaf, he did not realize what had happened until they reached home, where we explained it all to him with the help of gestures and scribbling notes on a piece of paper. He was shocked! They decided to drive back and see if the dog had survived and was maybe lying injured somewhere in the bush near the dirt road, but no trace.
Lamboo was the fourth dog we lost to the leopards in seven years! Each time I tell myself that I do not want anymore dogs, but then, when they just pop up out of nowhere and look at me with their big brown eyes, I get weak and decide to give again a happy, but short life to one or two of them.
After this incident the leopard kept on sneaking around the neighboring houses after dusk for several nights and people would throb on steel plates or light a fire in the garden to drive him away. Some say that they saw several leopards roaming together. Maybe it was a mother with bigger cubs, as they are usually solitary animals.
Before I used to think that big cats generally avoid humans; until the following happened:
Like every evening, I was sitting in the bed with my daughter reading her a bedtime story; ironically this time she had chosen “The Jungle Book”. Lamboo was still alive at that time and while we were reading the chapter where Mowgli fights the tiger with a stick on fire, our dog all of a sudden started barking like mad. From the bed I peaked through the window to find out what was going on.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a huge leopard sitting right next to my bedroom window! My first reaction was to scream as if possessed by the devil. The gate was open and brave Lamboo was only a few inches away from the cat. My outcry made the leopard look up and his hypnotizing green eyes stared right into mine.
Then, with a big leap, he disappeared into the night. By the time Baba had run out to the porch, the leopard had already vanished, but at least he managed to keep the dog from following him.
The whole situation lasted only a few seconds, but it seemed like an eternity to me. I felt horribly vulnerable and shivered with fear. The fact that these animals come that close to a house, even with the outdoor lighting on, was almost more scary than the happening itself.
From that day on I made sure to not let my child play outside in the late evening and to keep the gates closed. Usually leopards go for goats, dogs or other animals, but who knows, a child might look equally tasty to them and on top of it, easy to catch. Before that, I even used to enjoy sitting on the porch to listen to the very special roar leopards produce, when they occasionally roamed the area at night.
WELL, NOW NOT ANYMORE…
I do not blame the leopards. They are just wild animals which like any other being in this world need to somehow satisfy their hunger. They were always here and now find every time less space where to live and hunt. There is not much natural prey left for them in the area we live in. As far as I know, there are only pheasants and monkeys. The birds might not be enough to fill a big cat’s stomach and monkeys I imagine are not very easy to catch.
Not long ago I have read about a project by the Uttarakhand government, which consists in counting the leopards in each area of the region and return deer to the wild to keep the cats from coming to close to humans. Hopefully something will happen soon. I think it is worth a try, even with the consequence that the deer might feast on the precious grass meant for the cows during winter time and the crops for which the village people have to work really hard every year.