• Abhikram Shekhawat


Updated: Apr 20, 2020

URBAN LEOPARD’S LAIR In this everchanging world, which is highly influenced by the actions of humans, it’s the natural world that takes a hit. Not long back, forests and the natural cover were abundant on earth’s surface, but now everything has changed, and this change is propelled in a negative direction. Massive forests that once dominated the landscape are losing the battle to concrete jungles as man continues to exploit nature’s resources rampantly. Now forests only survive as islands amidst urban landscape under the nametag of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. But we forget that nature is the mighty force, and sees no humanmade boundaries.

Jhalana, located in the heart of the city of Jaipur, is the last of the natural refuges for the remaining wildlife of the area. However, it is one of a kind. Jhalana holds a healthy and growing population of wild Leopards. I have spent a great deal of time in Jhalana, it’s a place almost 10 minutes away from my house, and I embarked upon my photography journey at this very place. I’ve been tracking Jhalana’s leopards since the last five years, and I have seen them evolve, I have seen them become bolder and counter urban obstacles. When I first came to the park, it wasn’t open for tourists, nor did a lot of people knew about the existence of a leopard population. Jhalana had about 12-15 leopards when I first came to the forest. Tracking leopards was super fun and easy, as the whole forest was like a rigged alarm system consisting of Nilgai, Peafowls, and surprisingly squirrels. However, the major turning point in Jhalana’s timeline occurred when the forest department of Rajasthan decided to open its gates for tourism. It seemed like a scary idea at first, and indeed it didn’t achieve success at the beginning, but slowly and gradually, things began to change.

When the tourism began, it was hard to keep track of the people that were going inside the forest, but the most strenuous task was to ensure that people that enter the reserve abide by the rules and respect the forest. However, its India, and there is one thing that we have to accept is that we lack civic sense, well most of us. People started throwing food and waste in the forest, disturbing the animals by honking, driving too fast, etc. Naturally, leopards were affected by this. It became increasingly difficult to track the leopards now, and they were nowhere to be seen, which is odd considering Jhalana is only an 18-20 sq km forest. I noticed that although the sightings of the leopards have decreased, their population was on the rise. There were many females in the park, which gave birth to several cubs, cubs that would be the future generation of Jhalana. Out of all the female leopardesses in the forest, one was very distinguished from the others as she was bold and came close to the vehicles even as they misbehaved. Her name is Flora. When eco-tourism began, she gave birth to a litter of 3 cubs, one male, and two females. These three cubs grew up to be extremely famous amongst Jhalana’s regular visitors. Flora wasn’t afraid to bring out her cubs in the presence of jeeps. It was as if she was training them, teaching them that these jeeps won’t harm them. And eventually, all the three cubs became used to the vehicle presence, though the uncivilized people who came to the park in their private vehicles didn’t treat Jhalana as a forest as it was but more like a picnic park. After many complaints and petitions, the rules changed, the forest department allowed the only forest commissioned jeeps to run in the park, and only seven vehicles were permitted initially. The introduction of new rules and regulations worked very well in favor of the leopards. The change was slow but evident. Previously only Flora and her cubs were the ones who dared to come out in the open with so many jeeps, but now a lot of new leopards were emerging on the scenes like Nathwali, Mrs. Khan, Leela, etc.

With this new influx of leopards and an increase in sightings, things propelled into a positive direction for Jhalana. Meanwhile, Flora, who by the way rules the majority of the tourism area, gave birth to another two cubs. Both females. And these two girls were bolder than ever, almost behaving as if a tiger would behave around jeeps. In all my years, I had never seen a leopard act so boldly. The new generation was very much comfortable in the presence of humans.

Since the time I first visited Jhalana, I have seen a lot, explored a lot, and learned a lot. I have seen empires rise and fall, families play and having a ball until they separate their paths. I have learned how to track big cats here, and I have begun my photographic journey here. Jhalana has given me a lot, and I’m sure that it will continue to do so. The leopards of Jhalana are unique. They co-exist with each other. Honestly, I have seen 11 leopards at the same spot devouring a nilgai kill, and it is very unnatural for leopards to behave almost as if they were lions. The leopards of Jhalana are changing the cliché norms and rewriting natural history and making us realize how less we know of the secret life of leopards.

As of now, Jhalana is doing pretty well. The leopard population has slightly increased with Flora giving birth to 3 more cubs. There are a few other leopardesses who are raising their cubs. However, the sightings have reduced, though, because of the presence of 3 new males in the area. Jhalana is only as big as one male leopard’s empire, so having three huge males makes it challenging for the females to raise their cubs. However, Jhalana is holding on, and with minimal human pressure, the future looks bright, although there will be some challenges along the way, keeping in mind that Jhalana is at the heart of Jaipur, a city growing ever so rapidly, that human-animal conflict is an ever-present danger.

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