A big male leopard standing on the wind-shaped rocks at the entrance to his cave. Rajasthan, India.
In contrast to leopard watching in the dense jungles of India, they are relatively easy to spot here between the rocky crags and cactuses of the ‘Leopard Hills of Rajasthan’. In this incredible landscape the leopard is the top predator meaning they tend to be much more confident and relaxed.
During my time in Rajasthan I was lucky enough to photograph 8 different leopards, with sightings almost every safari. On one particularly successful day we saw 5 different leopards! Here they really take off roading seriously, and with no route or time restrictions, we scaled almost vertical rock faces in our trusty maruti Gypsy.
About the Indian Leopard:
The Indian leopard, Panthera pardus fusca, is a leopard subspecies found on the Indian subcontinent. Indian leopards are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List due to habitat loss, poaching and persecution due to conflict with people.
Leopard’s are famed for being the most secretive and elusive big cat. Highly adaptable as a species they can be found in a wide range of habitats ranging from deserts, forests, mountains and coastal areas. They are also regularly spotted on the outskirts of some of Indias largest cities; such as Mumbai. Not only are leopards incredibly agile and fast, sprinting up to 58km/h, they are also well known for their strength, able to drag a kill much heavier than their own body weight. Another amazing adaptation is their powerful night vision, leopards can see seven times better in the dark than humans, making them highly effective nocturnal hunters. Leopards are typically light coloured with dark spots on their fur known as ‘rosettes’. Occasionally melanistic leopards are born whose spots are hard to see because their fur is so dark. These cats are commonly referred to as ‘Black Panthers’ however they are not actually a separate species just a rare genetic characteristic.
India is home to an incredible five species of big cat (the most diverse in the world) the Asiatic lion, Bengal tiger, Indian Leopard, snow leopard and the clouded leopard.
About the Leopards of Bera:
The relationship between man and leopard in India is uneasy to say the least. Leopards regularly predate livestock and will kill people given the chance. However in the Jawai region of Indias desert state, people cohabit peacefully with the leopards, believing they are protectors of the temples that lay nestled between the rocky crags.
Elsewhere in India, approximately 100 leopards are killed annually and almost a thousand people are attacked!
Despite the incredibly high concentration of leopards in Bera, there has only been one single incident in over a century, where a leopard snatched a baby girl from outside her home in Vellar village. Rather than blaming the leopard the girl’s family blame themselves as they had left her alone and out in the open late in the evening.
Thankfully the girl survived with only minor injuries and is now in her twenties and undaunted by her brush with the predator, believing the canine scar marks on her neck to be a lucky talisman. Her brush with the big cat has earned her nicknamed Setri—the local word for a female leopard.
You can find out more about Leopards here.
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