So, I picked up the call and a voice on the other side asks me why his child has not performed well in exams. It was clearly a cross-connection, but I reconnected the call and to get better network I had to get up from my comfortable spot on the charpoy (a four-legged traditional Indian bed) kept outside Satish's house and move towards the verandah. I was finally in the middle of a conversation struggling with the network connectivity when a dog coming towards me abruptly stopped and started barking at me (roughly around 7:30 pm).
While initially, I kept wondering why he was doing so all of a sudden, only to realize within a fraction of a second that it wasn't really me, but something behind me or rather behind the house which had caught the dog's attention. I immediately asked Satish to check if there could be a leopard. Satish rushed to get a torch, pressed the button and the bright torch beam lit up the female leopard walking behind a thorn and bamboo fence, surrounding his house. After simply circumnavigating the house, the female disappeared in the forest.
A leopard spotted
My eyes couldn't believe that it had just seen a leopard, without much of an effort. Mind you, we usually go with the intention of spotting leopards; we sometimes sit at a waterhole following alarm calls in anticipation of a leopard. But this was special; because this time the leopard literally walked into my conversation.
We continued tracking the leopard; of course with the help of the torch, but that was a failed attempt. She was gone and disappeared in the darkness.
I quickly finished my conversation with Vidya and apologized for hanging up on her which she clearly did not mind as she had heard us spotting the leopard. We got back on the charpoy. After a brief chat, we were back to the cold evening; my adrenaline levels were also getting back to normal. Satish too got busy socializing with people far away using different apps.
A small evening Aarti (prayer) was happening at Satish's house where we could hear the handbell ringing and that's when we also heard a call from the leopard. We couldn't see the leopard in the darkness and the dense undergrowth but we could clearly hear the leopard. Again after a couple of failed attempts, we gave up on spotting the leopard but we still knew the leopard was around, as we could hear its call. She was definitely within a hundred meter radius from us. I got back to work and in intervals - roughly between 7 to 8 minutes - we could hear the leopard. To be really honest, by now we had gotten used to its presence. That's when I realized all the other sounds around me. There were the fading sounds of the rituals from the Aarti, a woman was doing her dishes, so I could hear the noise from utensils as well as the leopard at the same time. And just when everything was settling down, we heard the leopard again in the middle of the silence. It was then followed by the Azaan (Islamic call to prayer), kids playing at the neighborhood.
All of this looked like a bhelpuri to me. For the unversed, Bhelpuri is a Mumbai chaat, a mix of various ingredients of different flavors - from sweet and salty to sour and hot. So, I could relate this night to a Bhelpuri. The two different religions: Hindus and Muslims praying to their respective almighty. The "supposedly" innocent kids and dangerous leopards, all of this happening at one spot at the same time. We couldn't stop ourselves to see the leopard and so, we decided to go for a walk. Just when we stepped out, a guest arrived at Satish's house and warned us "Sambal ke... sher aaspaas hai" (Be careful, there is a leopard around). He had heard the leopard too. Interestingly, he said it so casually as if he was telling us that "Hey, it's raining; you should carry an umbrella."
While on the lookout for the leopard, I came across teenage girls chit-chatting, kids playing as well as attending tuitions. Much to our dismay, we came back without spotting the leopard, though we knew it was there somewhere.
Just before settling down again on our favorite charpoy, Satish decided to have a look again and that's when we spotted the leopard not more than 50 meters from us. I quickly made some images to identify her from her rosette pattern and she turned out to be Bianca (L80), who was photographed this summer with her two young cubs. Perhaps, she was calling out to them all this while.
Camera trap image of Bianca and her two cubs. Photo courtesy: Maharashtra Forest Department (Thane territorial division/Aarey group)
It was yet another night when I was left awestruck as to how these leopards have adapted very well to the city life. Bianca belongs to Luna's second litter of cubs and Luna herself used this area and habitat amongst people and now Bianca is teaching the same to her cubs. The learning was not only by leopards but also by people how they have adapted and evolved to live with leopards as their neighbors, just by being aware and taking safety precautions.
By Nikit Surve