Sunday, May 16, 2010

The visitor


Another interesting story plucked right out of the Sunday morning newspaper (See link below).

The campus of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun was designed so that it could be as natural a habitat as possible for the local fauna. The boundary between the forests of the Shivalik foothills where the Institute is based and the Institute itself is present only in theory, it can very much be described as an extension of the jungle, an ideal world for a wildlife researcher you would think. Walking through the campus, would be like walking through a lab doing practicals for these scientists who would pause to note the occasional colourful bird or a timid deer. The real question looming over them now is whether the campus is really a campus any longer now that a creature at the top of the food chain, a big carnivore on whose list of potential prey come the human researchers wandering through their 'campus' has come a visiting. Yes, there is a resident leopard on campus and that is quite an unnerving thought if you were returning alone after working late in one of the lab buildings, no matter how much a wildlife lover you might be.

And the problem lies in the fact is that the solution is not simply a 'tranquilize animal - transport it as far off as possible' here as it might have been for say the campus of IIT Powai in Bombay which also has a reputation for hosting leopards once in a blue moon. This is an Institute designed to promote and study the co-existence of man and nature, to prevent man-animal conflict. Transporting the leopard away from its home range would be an open mockery of the Institute's stated aims probably causing it great distress and bringing it into possibly deadly conflict with another leopard whose territory it would find itself in yet the researchers are having second thoughts about a leopard hanging around in such close proximity to their children's playgrounds. There is an abundance of natural prey within the campus & nearabouts and lots of habitat so in theory, the leopard should never have to have any run-ins with humans, shy creatures that most wild creatures are but the fact is that this is an animal that can easily drag a full grown man into the depths of the forest in the blink of a eye. And these big cats do have a reputation for quiet efficiency.

The opinion on campus about how to deal with the 'problem' [for some of them at least] is understandably divided. Out on a forest trip, the researchers have no reasons to complain about the potential threat to their lives as they are in a state of mental readiness and have an appropriate plan of action. What they do not want is to come across a leopard while they are dressed in their shorts and T-shirt out on their morning jog. Still a few are brave enough to advocate that their feline visitor be allowed to keep his home shared though it may be with a lot of humans. The lion-hearts plan to "alter their schedule to avoid conflict with a large carnivore". They consider it a privilege to be able to share their campus with a leopard, a childhood dream come true and an ultimate test of their learning.

What a wild and wonderful love that is - the respect for the animal's grace, power and beauty overcoming a natural in-born fear of being hunted! Some would say the scientists are putting too much faith into an animal's normal behaviour pattern & their field knowledge and if the leopard does violate that pattern causing a fatality, no one is really going to take it to court. I could almost agree except that I am really caught in two minds about the potential thrills and possible spills of being in such a situation were I a full fledged wildlife professional and capable of taking sufficient precautionary measures. On one hand, after a day's hard work, there are the simple pleasures of hearing beautiful song-birds sing as the sun went down; on the other hand there is the option of feeling that daily thrill down the spine on the humdrum daily commute home, of somebody who might be watching nonchalantly; relaxed, sprawled out high on a rock or a tree; somebody with glowering eyes, lethal speed and very sharp teeth.

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