By Sagarika Satapathy
3rd September 2020
Ganesh, a 12-year-old, lost an eye from cataract
The Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre in Junnar, Pune is now home to 20 elderly leopards. These senior cats were rescued and are being given geriatric care and nourishment to maintain their core strength and immunity and keep them healthy at their old age. The leopards were among 33 that were brought in after several serious injuries were inflicted upon them due to conflict.
12-year-old Ganesh(in-set) is an energetic old guy, who is often seen playing with Vitthal, another male rescue leopard, despite having lost an eye to severe cataract. These animals have proven male bonding among large beasts of their species, as male leopards are generally solitary animals in the wild. The overall health, psychological standing and behaviour of leopards change drastically in their old age. These nocturnal animals have incredible vision and can see 7 times better in the dark than humans, and thus a loss of eyesight can be a huge physiological and psychological hurdle to these magnificent creatures. Captive leopards especially require care, as they can develop emotional distress related issues such as obesity, inactivity and self-harm. Big cats in captivity do tend to have longer lives than those in the wild, but their care and nutrition is both a long term and challenging task. They need to be given an outlet to exhibit their natural behaviour through enrichment activities like mental and physical stimulation to maintain motor and cognitive skills.
JR Gowda, the Deputy Conservator of forest, Junnar, also stated that the intention of the centre was to ensure that the lives of the leopards are not like a jail sentence. He mentioned that several of these animals have been hand-reared in captivity since the time they were orphaned as cubs, while others drawn in from conflict are not safe to be released again. Their main objective has been to improve the existing facilities, provide more free space, protect and increase the lifespan of these animals. The pandemic has also made it necessary for on-site veterinarians to check and maintain the cats' temperatures. MLRC regularly rescues leopards that are injured or trapped in the surrounding areas.
'Such rescue operations require patience and careful planning. According to Dr.Nikhil Bangar, a wildlife veterinary officer, such rescue operations require patience and careful planning. The animals, Dr.Bangar stated, can get further stressed by human beings when they're in a state of injury or are trapped. In the past, leopards in the area have been injured due to snare traps and falling into pits and wells too.
“From trapping leopards and keeping them in small cages to ensuring better infrastructure and implementing innovative behavioural enrichment models, Junnar stands as a case study for any captive animal unit in India. It also highlights the competence when a forest department and an animal welfare group collaborate,” said Wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya, who believes that the MLRC has come a long way in animal rescue and rehabilitation, and hopes to see the same course of action and empathy amongst animal rescue groups throughout the country.
Sources: The Hindustan Times, The Times of India WildlifeSos and Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Center
Edited by - Hrishit Roy