In the early morning hours of a Saturday this July, a farmer in an Indian village heard what sounded like panicked roars coming from an open well near his home. He was shocked to discover a leopard at the bottom of the 60-foot well, struggling to keep her head above water. Instead of assuming he was powerless and the situation pointless, this farmer began a chain of events that led to the leopard's rescue.
First he called the Maharashtra Forest Department, who then connected with us, and we immediately deployed a rescue team to the well. Initially, we lowered a bundle of sticks down to the water to provide a makeshift raft for the cat. The leopard was able to climb on and rest, buying time for the team to get a container prepared for the rescue. With dozens of people assisting, a steel box was lowered down the well shaft. This initially spooked the leopard, who fell off her buoy. However, she quickly recovered and within seconds jumped into the box and the door quickly shut behind her. She was then lifted out of the well like an elevator ride, examined for injuries, and finally released back into the wild.
It's always heartening to see people rally together to save an animal. We have watched people work to help wildlife caught in fires, deer stuck on ice, rhinos caught in floods, and so on. Each time we hear of such a rescue or watch one caught on video it leaves us impressed with the heroes among us. We are touched by the many stories of sacrifice and selflessness that humankind will make for other non-human beings.
But this one's special. What makes it so unusual is to see a mob of people pulling together to save a leopard, which is a predator capable of killing a fully grown man, and is a threat to peoples' farm animals (which can be their livelihood). Such predators are usually killed out of fear. But that wasn't the case here. Remarkably, the drowning leopard was not only brought to safety on land, she was also re-released into the wild and allowed to live free. She was condemned to neither death nor captivity.
As an organization that works to save and protect wildlife, success stories like these give us hope for the future. We've worked for over a decade in Maharashtra (the region where this rescue took place) to raise awareness and promote wildlife coexistence with humans. In our conservation experience, all too often the human attitude toward nearby wildlife is mere tolerance at best -- and outright extermination at worst. Usually the human reaction hinges on the species type: The more capable a species is of hurting or injuring humans or their livestock, the less tolerance that species is shown. So with this in mind, the teamwork demonstrated by several dozen people working together to rescue a leopard -- a wild carnivore -- gives us hope that attitudes are changing, and wildlife like leopards are starting to be seen as animals worth saving.