Humans and leopards have a complicated relationship based on fear and admiration. The former comes from the fact that leopards are fearsome predators and humans are about the right size for a meal. Anthropologists have found ancient human skeletons with bite holes in the skull that exactly match the jaws on leopard skulls.
Yet humans around the world admire and revere leopards for their strength, cunning, grace and power. Novelist Stephen Harrigan, author of Gates of the Alamo has written The Leopard is Loose a story built around the actual story of an escaped leopard that terrified an Oklahoma city. The story evokes both the respect and the terror inherent in the relationship,
It is unclear exactly how many people are killed by leopards now. Although their range is wide, only Nepal and India keep any records. Recently, two women were attacked in India within 48 hours by the same leopard. Both were killed. Individual leopards are alleged to have killed up to 125 people.
Yet people in India and elsewhere go to great lengths to save leopards who are in extremis. Several examples come from Maharashtra state. Villagers have pulled leopards out of wells. In Pune, a four-year-old female was rescued by Maharashtra Forest Department and Rescue SOS. Rescuers spent two hours rescuing the exhausted and drowning leopard. Rescuers first lowered a log for the cat to hold onto and then lowered a cage. The leopard eagerly entered and was rescued and later released.
A similar rescue occurred in February in the Ahmednagar district. A male leopard was saved from drowning in a well by rescuers. Both rescues were captured on video.
A leopard with its head stuck in plastic bottle was rescued in Maharashtra , according to Indian newspapers. Residents noticed the starving and distraught animal. It was captured and the bottle was removed. The leopard was rehabilitated and released. India and her people are involved in conservation efforts. The country is committed to doubling the number of wild tigers and reports indicate villagers in several villages a year are paid to relocate in order to reduce conflict with tigers
Novelist Harrigan has chosen the fear of leopards, especially escaped leopards, as the basis of The Leopard is Loose. He was a small boy when the incident occurred. Nicknamed “Leapy” the Indian leopard vaulted out of its enclosure igniting a terrorized pursuit that lasted three days and generated national headlines. The search by hundreds of armed citizens and authorities, including some military, was ultimately unsuccessful. Driven by hunger, Leapy returned to the Oklahoma City Zoo. Unfortunately he had eaten drugged meat and succumbed to poisoning. From terror, the public mood shifted to sadness over his death. As part of the reaction to his escape and death he was stuffed and put on display.
Harrigan has chosen this story as a back drop for a coming-of-age novel for a little boy in the post World-War-Two area who confronts his deepest fears while living in a world still scarred by the war and death and loss.
The future of leopards world wide is somewhat uncertain. Their size and habits make counting difficult. They have been known to live in very close proximity to humans undetected. However, estimates of their numbers are declining. A recent survey puts the number world wide at about 14,000. Arabian leopards are the smallest and probably the scarcest of the types of leopards surviving. They are currently the subject of intense rescue efforts in Oman and Saudi Arabia.