As we noted recently, India is home to 15 of the world’s wild cat species. The populous nation works hard to protect its animal heritage. Leopards are a special case because they are big enough to be classed as big cats but small enough to eke out a living close to human ways and works.
A case in point is the story of the wandering leopard who wandered into an Indian Mercedes Benz factory. There is no punch line but there is a happy ending. The young male, about three-years-old, was spotted wandering around the factory in Chakan. Chakan is not a rural community but is an emerging industrial area. It is located in Maharashtra, the second most populous state in the nation. Maharashtra also has wildlands and works to keep the wildlife population stable. Company officials shut down the production line and summoned, Chakan Forest Department workers and Wildlife SOS arrived and began rescue efforts. The factory was shut down and evacuated while animal control watched the animal wander. When the cat found a comfortable spot the animal was tranquilized and safely evacuated. The cat was medically monitored and finally released in a more suitable location.
Leopards are not a nuisance or production delay to the Rabari. Rather they are fellow actors in the drama of life – and their relationship is complicated, difficult and evolving for both men and leopards. The Rabari live in the Kutch region of Gujarat and their relationship with leopards is deepened by the Rabari’s Hinduism and the strong association of Shiva with leopards. Rabari have little trouble with leopards and vice versa. In fact, leopard numbers in the region have increased.
The problems arise with tourism and the government. The fact that Rabari people and leopards co-exist brings tourists. But tourism promoters do not compensate the Rabari well and are building resorts and tourist attractions that do little for the local people. Outsiders tend to romanticize the Rabari and their lives in “leopard country” as it is advertised to tourists. Despite the romanticized view of the relationship there is conflict with the leopards. The government does have a program for compensating for leopard loss. It is not generous and is hard to obtain. About the equivalent of $74 for a dead animal, $103 for a human injury and $3,000 for a death.
Countries all over the world continue to struggle with the same problem: how to balance the needs and wants of humans and the other animals that live around them.