Sunday, May 7, 2017

Jhalana, Leopard's Home in City!

Those who have never seen a leopard under favorable conditions in his natural surroundings can have no conception of the grace of movement, and beauty of coloring, of this the most graceful and the most beautiful of all animals in our Indian jungles.”   Jim Corbett.

James Edward "Jim" 'Corbett (25 July 1875 – 19 April 1955) was a British-Indian hunter and tracker-turned-conservationist, author and naturalist, who hunted a large number of man-eating tigers and leopards in India. Well, this is the way Wikipedia describes Jim but by me if in one word you want to describe Jim then its “Wilderness”! The man has become other side of coin named nature such is his involvement & when he says a leopard is most beautiful or graceful animal of the Indian forests, then indeed it is! I have no guts to challenge Jim when its forest matter for two reasons, one it’s the years he has spent in forest & second you don’t doubt your Guru which he is for me when its anything related to nature. One more fact is I haven’t seen much of the leopard in my so many forest trips where as tigers yes I have seen many, though it’s never enough to have a tiger sighting is equally true yet above words of Jim kept lingering in the back of my mind since long & so is the wish to see the leopard in wilds. When I booked myself with my forester group for Ranthambore, where along with tigers, leopards also been sighted frequently yet when its tiger or leopard then ninety nine percent people will keep chasing tiger & I am no exception. And it’s but natural as the aura of the tiger is above every animal & may be that’s the reason in Indian forests leopards’ importance is seldom recognized. So when I came to know about a small, lesser known place named Jhalana Leopard Sanctuary near Jaipur, via a whats-ap group of wild life lovers, I grabbed the opportunity to club it with our Ranthambore trip!

Those who don’t know much about forests they may not understand importance or uniqueness of leopard which has presence in almost every part of the country, rather in our Pune district in Maharashtra they are in abundance & every alternate day there has been news about leopard sighting or attacking cattle in rural parts of Pune district. So most will ask what’s so special about a leopard & I don’t blame them as about forests we are most ignorant or I will put it bluntly negligent is proper term. As in first place we hardly care about any other animal than our own self leave away a leopard. And then those who go to forests them as I mentioned earlier end up clicking tigers & thinks they have seen forest. A leopard is most difficult to sight in first place in forest especially where tiger’s presence is & then almost impossible to click it clear, such is the way it moves through the foliage & that’s why it’s aptly called as “The Ghost” in forests! So sad, as such a beautiful animal just as it is way more cautious than the tiger & cares for his survival for the fear from getting killed by the tiger is called as ghost whereas the tiger gets the tag of king! Presence of the tiger reason why leopards are rarely seen where tigers roam as tigers just hates leopard. There may be two reasons, one as it’s indirectly might come in hunting of the tiger & second is leopard does kill tiger cubs. As there has been many cases reported of tiger killing a leopard as well ferociously chasing leopard or shoo it away from the scene by the tiger. In my so many forest exposures I have thousands of tigers images but not even ten that of leopard. Though there has been good & clear sighting of leopards by many even in project tigers but it’s mostly by chance or luck. Unlike tiger a leopard never follows a fixed track or route for e.g. in our recent trip we saw Noor, a tigress coming out of water hole & heading in a direction, the guide & the driver then followed her for nearly five kilometers & yet we could cross her path down the track, tigers are such predictable where as you can’t track leopard even for few hundred meters as it can go in any way!

With all such track record & yet my eagerness to see a leopard in clear or say more clear, I thought visiting Jhalana which is exclusively a leopards habitat would fulfill my wish to see a leopard more relaxed way. But then two surprises awaits me, Jhalana is right in the big city like Jaipur, more precisely in the industrial estate which I wasn’t aware of & second even its exclusive leopard habitat, that doesn’t makes the leopard careless & move openly is what I forgot! First entry to Jhalana was right through very urban area & this was earlier private forest of Maharaja Mansinh of Jaipur. The terrain very much like cut pasted from the Ranthambore yet it’s like a small island amongst the urbanization. And I must congratulate the forest dept of Rajasthan as well urban development & tourism dept for being able to conserve such wilderness right within the city! Till you doesn’t enter in to Jhalana Sanctuary you won’t believe that you are actually entering in a forest where right from alarm calls the sighting of a leopard is going to be as thrilling as in any project tiger & that’s where the success of the entire system lies! To make able the leopard survive & not to enter in surrounding urban areas two things were most important, one is hiding places along with green cover essential for the leopards life style & ample prey base i.e. food. Both things are perfectly made available; the tree clad hills with enough caves are the leopards home where as pea cocks, languor, blue-bull (Neel guy) as well chital are there to take care of leopards feeding! No wonder Jhalana give you perfect leopard sighting experience & it’s here where you learn to chase leopard from peacock call which otherwise is much easier by chital or sambhar calls.

Yet looking at the surrounding when I entered through Jhalana gate I was bit skeptical about the thrill which make your adrenalin rush when you keep looking through the gray yellow landscape & ears alert for any call making you know existence of a predator around, you can see it yet you can feel its presence around! And here also Jhalana surprised me as next two days we were moving repeatedly on the dust clad tracks as it’s a small area hardly some thirty odd square kilometers but yet it could make us forget the urbanization around. Right from waiting at water hole to listening alarm calls of peacock & blue bulls running for their life we witnessed every excitement & yes growling of a leopard too! And trust me even in full day light & safe in the gypsy also can’t stop the chill in the spine when you hear an angry leopard growling around! I remembered the fear in the minds villagers of Kumaun which Jim Corbett has mentioned in “Ruddraprayag’s Leopard” & I believed it totally now, as if in full day light this growl can frighten me imagine what impact it would have been on the villagers, to hear such growling sound in a clay hut with a door made of some planks & pitch black darkness around! Though I realized that even in Jhalana leopard sighting isn’t that easy as a leopard will behave as a leopard only, so once when we were waiting at water hole, a female leopard silently glided through bush thickset around & just her head appeared above the edge of the water hole, The moment a private car (yes they are still allowed here & has been banned from 1st May 17 thankfully) started its engine to take a close look, the leopard’s head disappeared in an instant & gone! Though conservation efforts are being taken by forest dept yet right in between the forest there is a temple of Kali Mata. Here natives are allowed & worst part is they bring food for the languor as well chital & blue bulls; I saw a devotee couple feeding Bhajiya to these animals & even throwing food stuff in plastic carry bags, this has to be stopped! And do mind Jhalana is not all about leopards there is lots of other wild life & excitement is high all the time, here is something we came across in for of peacock fight, one of the most amazing sights I have ever witnessed in forest & sharing in words which I posted on FB with snaps… ”We were not looking at them rather we were neglecting them such was the routine sight that of peacock in Jhalana leopard sanctuary, our eyes were searching for yellow black spots & all the use of peacock is for alarm call as at Jhalalana there are less numbers of chitals & neelguys though in abundance but of no use for alarm call, so all it depends on peacock! So when we saw two male peacocks circling each other then we saw it’s just another normal sight but soon we realize its fight over female & then next fifteen minutes we forget about leopard such was vicious fights & those feathers were tangled in each other & sharp claws aimed at other bird to kill! The moments were so fast that focusing was impossible yet sometimes wild life photography is not just about detailing but about capturing the right moment too! Here is one such.”

And we have been blessed with sight of hares also & were lucky enough to click one clear, again a thing which I wasn’t able to do in many years & hare are very shy specie & rarely poses for a snap!

Every urban planner especially from Pune should visit Jhalana just as how to conserve wilderness within rampant urbanization & use tourism to support conservation. Once these leopards were nuisance to the community & man animal conflict was at peak, the only possible outcome was wiping out the leopards of Jhalana. But some wise planning & actions has helped man & animal both survive & live at own peace. In Pune also as I mentioned above there are many areas where we can conserve leopards along with tourism. As the Corbett has said leopard is undoubtedly the most beautiful animal & with a gift of survival in extreme conditions as that’s why it’s still seen in most part of India. But this time it has greatest enemy to face, in-front of which it is helpless. And the enemy is none other than you & me, directly or indirectly each of us is a reason for destroying habitat of leopards around. Unless every one of us understands our crime & accepts to take punishment for the same by way of contributing for conservation of leopards, the most beautiful animal is surely walking slowly towards defeat in its last fight for survival!

Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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