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Rajesh Tikam tells us of his memories of leopards near his home and village when growing up in India in the 1950’s and their struggles to coexist with humans.

It was the early 1950’s and my village in India was still surrounded by the dense jungle. The jungle had its music that always inspired me. Birds singing along with pattering rain, frogs interrupting sweet music with their offbeat noises, peacock stretching out his gorgeous dotted feathers to start a classical dance and mighty tigers roaring to remind everyone of their royal existence. It was a perfect pleasing surrounding until human greed gulped everything like a wildfire.

For all trees in the jungle, those were the frightening days. No one knew which tree would get sacrificed in the fire of human greed or which animal would drown in the ocean of human thirst. Enormous trees were not only cut down to create homes but few were burned because they were not beautiful enough to decorate pleasing gardens.

I can still listen to those silent screams of trees and the painful howling of animals. They believed that some miracle would save their forest, but nothing happened. Everything burned in the greed of human wildfire.

When this fire of human greed reached its peak and the jungle was disappearing like a river in drought, only one animal drew her sharp paws to challenge humans. She was a beautiful leopard with gorgeous dotted golden fur.

That gorgeous leopard was still there to show humans the stubbornness of the jungle. When there was not a single deer left in the forest to hunt, she wisely drew her paws on helpless dogs. No one knew when she was sneaking into a new town and where she was disappearing after hunting dogs. She was a ghost with frightening amber eyes and humans got scared to even step out in the darkness.

After a long game of hide and seek, finally, a battle sparked among human greed and helpless hunger. Each day a different trap was set to capture the rebellious leopard who denied human rules, but the result was the same, “She escaped again!” Disappointed humans used to shout like frustrated kids. “Oh! She is too fast.” They used to admire her skills in amazement. But unfortunately, each intelligence has its limit, swiftness exhausts with distance and hunger has its mistakes.

When humans realized that it was impossible to compete with a predator’s instinct of survival, they came up with a cowardly idea. Humans tried to poison her. I always wondered why she was risking her life to be around the nanny’s garden. She could have escaped with other leopards but yet she decided to challenge the greed of humans.

That night when she arrived in the nanny’s garden and jumped around the old mango branches, she discovered a dead goat lying beneath the old mango tree. The goat was poisoned. Her instinct knew there was something wrong but an irresistible hunger forced her to fall into a human trap.

With a few silent jumps, she quickly landed on the ground, grabbed the dead goat by the neck and returned among the mango branches. Coward humans were hiding behind bushes and were watching a dangerous yet honest animal satisfying her hunger.

As they predicted, soon her wild eyesight blurred and strong legs lost their strength. She was struggling to keep balance among the old mango branches. But before the humans could capture her, she again disappeared like a ghost and even death refused to help humans.

She was gone, the last soldier of this forest disappeared. Everyone was curious where the leopard went? For her golden fur, humans conducted several expeditions but failed. I was hoping for some miracle and wished to hear the good news of her safety, but Mother Nature was silent.

I asked clouds but they sneaked away without uttering a word. I asked the blowing wind to tell me about the brave leopard, but the wind was speechless too. She was so silent that I knew it’s a silence of tears; instead of answering, the wind carried two old mango leaves with her and blew towards the deep jungle.

As I followed those leaves, I realized the jungle was changing. Half of a forest was already gulped by a concrete jungle and the other half was being transformed into an artificial garden to keep the green garland alive. But this garland had no space for animals. Birds were welcomed but they too preferred to escape.

When those old leaves crossed a buzzing river and entered into the last remaining narrow forest, they sensed a fear. As if all animals knew this concrete jungle will soon gulp their new homes too. Suddenly the silent wind whirled around a bush and threw those tired leaves into a cave. I silently followed them and stepped into the cave.

Inside, I saw a gorgeous leopard with beautiful dotted golden fur, lying on the ground, battling to grasp as many breaths as she could. She wanted to live, only for her little cubs. For those little cubs, it was a normal night to annoy their mother before sleeping. They wished their mother would whirl her tail and they would fight to catch it, but her tail never whirled, it was motionless, silent and dead.

It’s been 11 years and the leopards around the world are still fighting for their existence. How the world would be without the beautiful leopards, I wonder again and again.

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