~A story of a magnificent female leopard of Jawai
Growth; What do you understand by it?
Growth is an inevitable truth of life that one has to always come across, no matter what. A truth that no living species on earth can avoid; an evidence of evolution; the mere existence of the process of reproduction. Personal growth is known to transform a living being into a stronger version, that overcomes all sorts of problems and protects what it owns.
The month of July, 2013 is accurately engraved in my memory. It was the scorching July sun and I was on an expedition with a group of Spanish Guests, who were extremely exhausted with the heat, aggravated with disappointment. We wandered for three hours and hadn't spotted a single leopard in the area. On our way back to the camp, I stopped the gypsy at the only place that relieved me, the tea stall outside Varawal. While sipping my chai from kulhad with deep disappointment and enervation, I got a phone call from one of my trackers. He informed me that a leopard & hyena had been found fighting at a spot that was near to the tea stall. Without any second thoughts and further discussion, I took my guests to the spot.
We reached the place and spotted the hyena trying to scare a leopard off who was on the rock in the headlight of our gypsy. There she was~ the ferocious one. The aura in her eyes reflected her newness to the situation of the fight and the world of cruelty. From the first look, I suspected that she might've just been separated from her mother. At that moment, I didn't understand the reason behind their fight. With a thought that its unethical to disturb the activities of wildlife, I took my happy-with-spotting guests back to the camp. With the hope of finding her again, I gave her a name~ Neelam.
New leopards separate from their mothers at the age of 12-14 months to find a territory of their own, along with mating partners. She made a magnificent appearance which made me curious as to what might've invoked the fight between a new leopard & a hyena. With a determination of unraveling the mystery, I went to the same spot the next day. I was surprised when I found a dead goat on that spot. Realizing that the reason behind their fight was food, I started looking for her. I found myself lucky when I spotted her on a hill. She gave enough spotting to be seen for existence from a crack, only to disappear again after a few months.
It is believed that a destination becomes more special if the journey is spectacular and indulging. It took me two months to locate her again on a different hill. Every day, I wandered on my patrolling bike in search of her. I was taken by surprise in the month of April, 2015 when I saw her with her first litter of 2 cubs, a male & a female who I'd named (later,) Heera & Panna respectively. Mother-leopards tend to hide to protect their cubs & bring them in the presence of humans only after 2 months. They might be called "Ghost of the forest", but they know if you're watching them. At least in Jawai, they do. Due to a lack of equipment, I couldn't capture her shot then. However, in the month of July, 2015 on an expedition with a group of traveler photographers from 'Mumbai Travelers', we managed to get a shot of Neelam & her cubs. For a series of months, it was her routine to sit outside her cave along with her cubs & we had great spotting!
The first territory of a female where she lives with her cubs is always owned by the male she mates with and the father of the cubs. However, it is the sole responsibility of the female to take care of her cubs. Her cubs made me curious about her mating partner. On a particular morning, I spotted Neelam with her cubs going inside the cave. She looked alert then. In the evening, I was on a safari with a group of guests and we saw her running with Heera (male cub). Panna (female cub) was alert. A sight of another male leopard, Marshal, in Neelam's territory was seen just later.
Male leopards tend to kill other males to mate with a female. Marshal could've come to the hill for only two reasons: One, to kill Heera so that he could mate with Neelam & claim the territory or two, this was his territory! Marshal, walked around marking of the cave, sprayed (I.e., urinated) and then left. Another day, the daily routine of Neelam with her cubs sitting outside the cave on her signature spot: The Tea Rock ~ Left Cave, was followed with a sight of Marshal, who happened to exchange looks and then he walked away. This particular sight wasn't usual. This could only mean one thing: Marshal was Neelam's first mating partner!
A leopard raises her cubs, teaches them hunting, for a period of 7-8 months after which, she leaves them to be on their own. Neelam raised her cubs in the territory of Marshal. She left them to be on their own after 10 months from their birth. Meanwhile, a leopard searches for a mating partner. It hunts, it lives its own life and continues to find a mating partner. I was wondering as to who would be her next mating partner when I spotted her mating with Marshal on a rock. I wasn't surprised. Nevertheless, I was waiting to spot her 2nd litter!
After a few months, in the first week of December, 2016, I spotted her in one of Marshal's territory with her 2nd litter of 3 cubs~ all males. She was the first-ever leopard in Jawai to be seen with 3 MALE CUBS! This made her even more special in the area. Guests demanded to see such sights. The cubs were a month old when they were first spotted. On fine evening of 18th January, 2017, I took a group of traveler guests from '' to spot Neelam. Near sundown, we saw Marshal marching towards Neelam from a crack & attacking her. The whole situation confused me. We couldn't stay more because of the sundown.
After an extreme period of inquisition with my mind, I went to the same spot the next day. I was shocked to find Marshal wandering around his whole territory like a king, who claims a kingdom after a fight. Marshal looked angry. I looked around in search of Neelam and didn't find her. With a sense of disappointment, I wondered if she'd gone. However, a week later she was seen in some other territory with all 3 cubs.
On the morning of 31st January, 2016, one of Neelam's cubs from the 2nd litter, was found dead on a rock!
This was a dreadful sight to look. The cub was bleeding and there were pug marks of leopards from a fight. Due to the series of events, I'd suspected Marshal had killed the cub. The fact was disturbing. Leopards often fight when they're claiming a territory or want to mate with the same female. However, the cub was only 4-5 months old, and was not fit for any activity above. Also, it was Marshal's cub! Neelam disappeared with the remaining 2 cubs and wasn't spotted for weeks. Where did she go?? There was another question that left all of us bugging: Why did Marshal kill his own cub?
Comment below if you suspect something. An answer? Or you might've to wait for another week for the right one!
~~ NOTE: The story has been written from Mr. Pushpendra's (Owner's) point of view. All the experiences described in the story are his personal experiences and has nothing to do with the writer~~
~~ Special thanks to Mr. Jogi Prajapati, tour leader & co-founder of Mumbai Travelers from Mumbai, Maharashtra & Mr. Rahul Rao, tour leader at 'Foliage Outdoor' group from Pune, Maharashtra~~