Abducted Cubs Are Reunited With Mother
A rescued leopard cub, at the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC), India, with milk on its face. The cub was rescued from severe flooding in Kaziranga National Park, Assam, India.
When the call came from Mr. Aniruddha Dey, the divisional forest officer of the Tinsukia wildlife division, in the north-east Indian Assam state, about the rescue of two leopard cubs, Dr. Prasanta Boro of the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Wildlife Trust of India (IFAW-WTI) rushed to the spot.
Reuniting the cubs with the mother is not an easy task especially in areas where the mother lives near human habitations around tea gardens.
The call was from Upper Assam where IFAW-WTI had handled most of its human-leopard conflict cases during the last 3 years. This was a case of two leopard cubs, almost a month old, were found by workers while clearing bushes in the Dikom Tea Estate, in Dibrugarh district.
Dr. NVK Ashraf, Head of Wild rescue team and Dr. Anjan Talukdar (wildlife vet at IFAW-WTI's Centre of Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation at Kaziranga) were contacted immediately by Dr. Boro for guidance. Dr. Ashraf asked Dr. Boro to simply place the cubs in a thicket nearby and watch from a distance. He knew that the challenge would be convincing the tea garden managers because the tea gardens usually prevail upon the forest department to trap leopards and release them elsewhere.
It was tough for Dr. Boro to deal with the tea garden management and convince them to allow the cubs to be re-united with their mother as the workers never wanted a leopard around. After a long discussion with Dr. Boro and the forest officials, it was agreed that they will allow the mother to come and pick the cubs from a nearby thicket.
Both cubs were placed in a trap cage with the trigger locked in position. There were no one except three laborers and a forest staff to help Dr. Boro as no one wanted to take any chances with a mother leopard who was just moving around in anger.
The team waited the entire night with the mother growling from the bushes.
"We were not in a hide and we had no guns. Just five of us sitting about 20 meters away from the cage."
The mother finally came early in the morning picked up the male cub and disappeared. 0423 hours Dr Boro noted in his diary and the trap door trigger had not fired !
Hoping that the mother would come back, Dr. Boro decided to keep the female cub in a clear tea garden trench with closed ends so that the cub could not run out and the mother could come and pick it up. However, there was no sign of her the entire next day.
The villagers, meanwhile, were quite aghast by this soft attitude of forest department and WTI. Leopards are not meant to be mollycoddled. They are meant to be trapped and sent elsewhere. So unknown to Dr Boro and the team, they had hatched a different plan.
With a duck as a bait, they had placed a trap cage about half a kilometer away and the mother had gone for it. When the news came Dr. Boro, ran with the cub to the cage. "I was angry and disappointed that after all the hard work and initial success, things were going out of control. "
The mother greeted his approach with angry growls and dashed against the bars. Placing the cub a few inches away from the cage he waited with bated breath. The cub sensing the mother moved towards the bars and the mother tried to pull the little one in, but the bars were in way.
The doctor had no alternative, he picked the cub and with shaking hands opened the trap door ever so slightly and slipped the little one into the cage while the mother glowered from the corner of the cage.
The team then immediately left the place and came back at night to check: the cub was happily sucking and the mother had completely calmed down.
"I was afraid, but I felt that she understood my intentions once I went to her with the cubs...."
"What next? Was the question in my mind, I had a mother leopard with her cub inside the cage which was about four feet in height. If I opened the cage and let her go she might take the cub or might not. She might even attack us. There was no place to hide. So we decided to take the risk. We climbed up on the top of the cage and open the door in good faith."
The mother jumped out and disappeared for a few seconds and then it came back and sat in the clearing about 15 meters away. The message was clear.
Boro and the team climbed down and walked away from the cage to the village.
Later this morning they went back to the cage and the cub had gone. "We checked all around to see if the cub had not been left behind and then went home to sleep.