The beast within

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Why did this Faridabad village turn into a bloodthirsty mob that killed a leopard? A wildlife activist, who did not want to be named, recounts the episode

‘The beautiful animal lay lifeless, its once-muscular sinews beaten to pulp’
‘The beautiful animal lay lifeless, its once-muscular sinews beaten to pulp’
Illustration: Naorem Ashish

FOR THE past two years, I learnt about saving animals. Last week, an incident convinced me it is people who need saving, from the beasts that they have become. I was manning the helpline at the Wildlife SOS office when a frantic call came in from Kheri Gujran (a village in Faridabad). A leopard had been spotted. We were begged to capture and relocate the animal. Soon, more requests began pouring in from the Delhi Wildlife Department and the District Magistrate of Faridabad to move the predator.

Immediately, a team left from our centre in Gurgaon, accompanied by officers from the Haryana Forest Department (HFD). A second team was dispatched from Delhi. Between them, they carried tranquilising equipment, a cage, nets and capture poles. A policeman guided us to the spot.

Upon reaching Kheri Gujran, we realised the situation was not ideal. In spite of the presence of two Wildlife SOS teams, a Forest Range Officer, the DCP and the DM — a massive crowd of people had gathered 300 metres away from the banyan tree on which the leopard sat. The gist of our plan was to shoot a tranquiliser at the animal from atop the nearest building. Tranquiliser darts have a 50 percent chance of working. To ensure the leopard had a clear exit route away from the crowd, where a second attempt could be made at trapping him, 15-20 policemen worked on pushing the people back. But the lack of weapons reduced their efficacy. A helpless, trapped animal is the stuff of primetime entertainment.

Audiences elicit performances. Suddenly, a drunkard broke away, hurling stones at the leopard. Excited by his inebriated machismo, the crowd started throwing sticks at the animal. The terrified creature climbed down the tree, looking for an escape. But high on their collective violence, the group blocked its path. When it jumped into the nearest compound to look for an alternative exit, they surrounded it again. Finally, a man drew too close, provoking the animal to snap at his hand in self defence. The sight of blood drove the crowd into a frenzy.

Trapped between the screaming hundreds, I felt no sense of their rage. The leopard had done nothing. No cattle or property had been destroyed. There was nothing driving them apart from a drunk man’s warped logic — murder was a sport, and they were in it for the win.

When the animal had lost all signs of consciousness, we begged the crowd to leave it alone. The raging mob smashed our equipment. We were threatened with violence if we tried to save the leopard. It was too late — the beautiful animal lay lifeless on the ground, its once-muscular sinews beaten to pulp. The village sarpanch crowed gleefully at the mob’s courage. The carcass was reluctantly handed to the HFD, after being dragged through the entire village.

We had tried everything we could, but I couldn’t fight the nausea and guilt. We cannot let angry mobs decide for us. We cannot let a sarpanch applaud murder. The German word, or more aptly, Hitler’s word for it was ‘blutkitt’ — we are bound together by the atrocity of what we have seen until we are silent. Break that silence. Punish the guilty.

(In conversation with Nishita Jha)

Wildlife SOS helps rescue all types of wildlife in New Delhi and thye NCR. Their 24-hour rescue helpline is 98719 63535

nishita@tehelka.com

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