We sat on a log by a trail, Shashank and me, incessantly scratching the tick bites we had acquired during our many wildlife surveys on coffee farms. The trail that we sat by passed through a Robusta plantation, and to our right, it perpendicularly met another trail that marked the border between the plantation and the adjacent forest. In the absence of hunting, coffee farms support many wild herbivores outside of Protected Areas, which in turn act as the prey base for wild predators. The tracks all along the trails of this estate bore signs of its usage by herbivores of all sizes. That evening, sunset would mark the beginning of our mammal walk along these trails, and as we approached it, the calls of the birds were dying out. With the exception of barks of domestic dogs from a nearby estate and the distant voices of people, it was a quiet evening.
A short while before we began our walk, from somewhere near the coffee farm’s boundary, not too far from us, an alarmed Sambar began to call. Unseen by us, the animal’s deep warning calls, told us of a predator in the vicinity. The calls went on for a couple of minutes, but the evening soon returned to its former quietness.
We sat in silence for a while, listening and looking intently for any animal movement, but there was none. Fifteen minutes later, we started walking and treading carefully on the path, so as to avoid stepping on dry leaves and twigs. A few minutes into the walk, we heard the scuffling sounds of an animal from amidst the bamboo just to our right. Shining our torches in the direction of the sound, we found a pair of glowing forward-facing eyes, over a foot off the ground, locked onto us.
All three of us, the animal, Shashank and I, froze. Time stood still with thoughts racing in my head, and heart pounding with the anticipation of sighting a predator. With what seemed to be an eternity later the glowing eyes disappeared but reappeared almost instantly about 5ft to the right of its initial location. Still looking directly at us in curiosity, the animal bent low, and then stood upright, before slowly retreating into the bamboo thicket, out of our sight. Phew!
Such close encounters fill you with unmatched excitement. They leave you with unanswered questions that linger with you for many days. Although the sighting itself lasted for less than probably two minutes, we will for the rest of our lives remember our close encounter with one of India’s most adaptable big cats, the Leopard.
Author: Parvathi Prasad
Parvathi Prasad graduated with an MSc in Tropical Biology and Conservation from James Cook University (Australia) in 2015. For her dissertation, she worked on understanding conflict between fishermen and otters in the Bhadra River in South India. Parvathi has worked on multiple research projects across India. She is interested in population ecology, small carnivores and human-wildlife interactions.
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