Leopards in Maharashtra are increasingly falling prey to uncovered wells around forest areas. The buffer areas which mark the transition between forested regions and human habitation are dotted with uncovered wells which often prove to be fatal traps for the leopards and other species that slip and fall into them after dark.
Several instances of leopards falling into wells have been reported over the last few years in Maharashtra and several others in states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Assam. It is not just leopards—a species protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act. 1972—that are vulnerable to these wells, but also several other species that may fall in accidentally with potentially fatal results, such as nilgai, civet cats, porcupines, and small jungle cats.
The Wildlife SOS Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre in Junnar, Maharashtra is dedicated to rescuing leopards in one of the areas afflicted with maximum man-animal conflict. Leopards also frequently become victims of these uncovered wells in this belt. The Rescue Centre’s team has been conducting awareness programmes across these leopard-prone villages to educate the local farming communities and to increase tolerance for coexistence with these majestic cats. The centre, on average, rescues two to three leopards caught in conflict situations or trapped in wells, monthly.
This is a challenging task, and leopards are at fatal risk of drowning if not rescued in time, or sustaining injuries that make them unfit to live the wild.
In 2014, a 6-month-old female leopard had fallen into a well in Otur Village, Pune. The Wildlife SOS rescue team lowered a crate of food to coax the cub to jump into the crate, and safely pulled her out. After a thorough medical examination, the rescue team found her physically fit, and released her back near the well the same night. Shortly after that, the mother came and took her cub, much to the delight of the WSOS team who were watching from a distance.
In May 2015, Wildlife SOS rescued a male leopard from a well in Kothapur village. The team lowered a trap cage into the well, and once the leopard willingly entered the dry cage, hauled it up. With the help of the Forest department and the villagers, they were able to rescue the big cat and transfer it safely to the centre. On examination, the officials found the leopard healthy and fit for release.
A few months later, villagers found another leopard struggling in a 50-foot-deep well in Panner Taluka. Once out of the water, officials loaded the leopard onto the back of the Wildlife SOS rescue vehicle. They took her to the Centre for observation and any required treatment.
Similarly in 2016, officials rescued a young female leopard from a near-death situation. She had fallen into a 60-foot-deep well at Pimpalgaon Siddhanath village in Junnar. Wildlife SOS followed this with the rescue of a pair of leopard cubs. The cubs had the misfortune of falling into a 40-foot-deep well outside Parner village. After a thorough medical examination, the cubs successfully reunited with their mother. Such cases have been increasing in frequency in recent years.
The main reason behind this appears to be the lack of proper covers and fencing around these wells.
Uncovered wells pose a hazard to animals, and also to human beings, particularly children. To prevent such incidents from recurring, Wildlife SOS has started an online petition. It asks concerned authorities to cover or fence off wells, or even construct safety walls. This way, people and wild animals can avoid further danger.
Be a part of the change and pledge your support here.