A leopard, a cage and two cubs: How a big cat bamboozled forest officials in Kerala

According to forest officials, the leopard gave birth to two cubs a week ago in the abandoned house in Palakkad’s Ummini.
Two young leopard cubs in an enclosure
Two young leopard cubs in an enclosure
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The forest officials in Kerala’s Palakkad range have been in a conundrum since they received a call from the residents of Ummini in the district two days ago, saying they spotted a leopard sprinting out of an uninhabited house in the area. Abandoned for more than a decade, the house has become home to trees, creepers, climbers, and its recent guests — the leopard and her two cubs. The trap was all set to catch the leopard and let it go inside the forest along with her one-week-old cubs. For this, the forest officials used the cubs to lure their mother and capture them safely. The clever mother leopard, however, must have had a different plan.

On Sunday, January 9, the officials placed the cubs in a cardboard box at the corner of a big cage, and waited. The next morning, on Monday, January 10, however, the trap was untouched —  but, one cub was missing. According to forest officials, the mother leopard took one cub, evading the trap.

The leopard rescues one cub

The forest officials told TNM that the leopard must have been staying inside the house after giving birth, whilst going out for hunting and coming back to feed her cubs. It was during one such hunting trip that the residents spotted the leopard, the officials said.

When the forest officials first entered the abandoned house on Sunday, they saw two tiny cubs ensconced in a corner. Ascertaining their age to be one week old, they took the cubs under their care, in order to protect them from predators.

Speaking to TNM, Range Forest Officer (Walayar) U Ashique Ali said that as chances for captivity survival are extremely low for the cubs, they decided to capture the mother and let her into the forest with the cubs. And with the plan, they went ahead with the operation. “We placed the cubs in a cardboard box and placed it at the corner of the big cage. We installed cameras to capture the leopard’s arrival, if and when she came,” said the officer.

However, what happened later not only surprised the officials but the residents, too. On Monday morning, they found that the mother leopard had taken one of the cubs, while the other was left behind. The cardboard box was found pulled out of the cage.

The cage, reportedly, had a treadle close to the bait, which, in this case, were the cubs in the cardboard box. So, if the leopard had to reach her cubs, she would have probably stepped on the treadle, causing the door of the cage to close behind her. However, she allegedly managed to evade the mechanism and pull the cardboard box out. The forest officials are yet to release the video footage.

While the mother leopard took one cub during the early hours of the day, she probably could not take the second cub due to light, noise and the presence of humans, said Ashique.

The officials are now planning to repeat the process. The forest officials have now set a bigger trap and are waiting for the mother to return for her cub again. Meanwhile, the forest officials and veterinary doctors at District Forest Office are taking care of the second cub, which was left behind.

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