Leopard in the City
In a corner of the Central Zoo’s office grounds in Jawalakhel is a metal cage covered in half by a sheet of black cloth. Lifting it reveals a second, smaller cage – 10 sq feet. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to know who is in it: a loud growl, followed by a large charging leopard who hopelessly crashes into the walls of his metal cage. Then, its nose begins to bleed from the powerful impact. The nose had barely begun to heal from the first time it injured it while doing the exact same thing, repeatedly, day before yesterday when it regained consciousness and found itself in the dark alien confinement.
This large common leopard, weighing at 42 kilos (92.5lbs), was first spotted around 6 am in Maharajgunj, just north of Narayan Gopal Chowk on Tuesday, May 22.
By 9 am the authorities had been alerted and the Central Zoo’s Animal Rescue team, along with about 150 police personnel, had arrived at the scene: a large 3-story residence under construction.
At approximately 11 am, it was darted with the first tranquilizer. Then, moments later, the second. Soon, the sedated, and now captive cat, was on its way to the zoo.
“We are currently holding it in quarantine,” explained Bal Krishna Giri, the vet officer in the Animal Rescue team. “We have been making sure that he is alright, and conducting some basic tests we need to before it is released.”
“It is important to keep him under observation, and in the dark, so he calms down. His last public experience was being surrounded by hundreds of people,” added Radha Krishna Ghatri, the team’s vet assistant.
The release, however, will not be rehabilitation in its natural setting. Sarita Jnawali, project manager at the Central Zoo, explained that while they release rescued animals back into the wild any time that looks viable for the animal, this male leopard will become a member of the leopard exhibit at the zoo. All the leopards there now are female.
“We rescue almost seven to nine common leopards a year,” she explained. “But unfortunately, most times by the time we get to them they have been severely beaten by locals so quite a number of them end up dying even as we try to save them.”
Where They Come From, and Why
The leopards that appear in Kathmandu, it seems, are mostly coming from the Shivapuri-Nagarjuna forests. “We have encroached on so much of their space. And on top of that, there are very few preys for them in their natural habitat,” she explained. “So, they often end up coming out looking for food.”
“Dogs. They come and attack chicken farms and other smaller preys, but they love dogs,” Giri added. “They are good breeders too, giving birth to almost four to five cubs at a time.”
Leopards are not listed as endangered or threatened in Nepal at the moment, as their population is considered to be quite healthy. “However, we don’t really know if our common leopards are really common. There isn’t enough data on the current status of these animals in the wild here,” Sarita explained.
With so many leopards being rescued each year, the 6-hectare zoo with a small cage for the leopard exhibit is hardly feasible. So what happens down the road?
“At the policy level, we really need to figure out a more viable solution to taking care of our rescued animals. Not all of them can be released back into the wild, or kept at the zoo,” Sarita said. “We need to develop sites where these animals can then be cared for until their natural death.”
Animals wandering into urban centers are hardly a shocking phenomenon the world over these days. American cities are grappling with wild coyotes. South Asia gets its dose of the scary elephant rampage every so often. It appears leopard population around Kathmandu is growing at a healthy rate. They will always need more space and food. But the Valley’s human population and appetite for real estate is escalating too, pushing the city boundaries further out all the time. Appearance of leopards in the city will seemingly only become more common as the city moves closer, or into, leopard territory.
And while there have been very few cases where they have attacked humans, mostly because a mob is often after the animal, there is no saying that the leopards will not become more aggressive, or show up in larger numbers.
“People easily forget the relationship of humans with natural ecologies, and wild species of all kinds,” Sarita added. “That will never serve us well.”
For now the Zoo says it is doing what it can, and is excited to finally add a healthy male leopard to its collection. How the leopard feels about that, we’ll never know.