When villagers began to notice toe-curling screams coming from the bottom of a 60-foot well, they knew something was drastically wrong. And as a local man dared to peer over the edge down towards the water, what he saw was enough to strike fear into anyone’s heart.
The incident occurred in a tiny village in Junnar, which lies in the state of Maharashtra in western India. It was a normal July day, just like any other, when the howling began.
When the local resident went to investigate the noises, he found that a hopeless creature had become stranded at the bottom of the well. Immediately, he called the forestry department, which then contacted the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Center run by animal charity Wildlife SOS.
A three-member team from the center rushed to the scene, assisted by six forestry department officials. And upon investigating the well, they soon discovered that the loud cries were actually coming from a young leopard, barely managing to stay afloat at its bottom.
With the help of a group of villagers, then, the team began to devise a plan on just how to rescue the trapped wild cat. In the meantime, someone threw down a huge bunch of branches, which the leopard climbed onto in a bid to stop herself from drowning.
And although it’s still uncertain how the leopard came to be trapped in the well, Ramesh Kharmale from the forestry department pointed to “the lack of proper net covers” as part of the problem. “A large number of wells in rural Maharashtra villages remain exposed, thereby increasing the risk of wild animals getting trapped in them,” he explained, according to The Indian Express.
With time running out for the panicked leopard, the team lowered a crate into the well in the hope that she would voluntarily climb into it. But, with her predator’s instincts very much intact, the receptacle seemed only to enrage the beautiful beast further – and she swiped at it with her razor-sharp claws.
So apparently shaken and bewildered by the alien object was the leopard, in fact, that she continued to attack it – only to fall from the safety of her branches in the process. But after managing to pull herself out of the water once more, the leopard finally decided to check out the crate, holding onto it with one of her front paws.
And after a few moments of seeming uncertainty, the leopard finally seemed to realize that entering the strange object provided her best shot at survival. She gingerly climbed into the cage and so was set free from balancing precariously on the sticks.
The rescue team, helmed by vet Dr. Ajay Deshmukh, were then able to hoist the animal back to dry land. They gave the confused leopard a full once-over to determine her condition before, eventually, sending her back into the wild.
Speaking after the dramatic three-hour rescue, Dr. Deshmukh said that the leopard had been in a “state of panic.” However, The Indian Express quotes him as adding, “After conducting a thorough physical examination, we concluded that it was healthy and fit for release.”
There are around 12,000 to 14,000 leopards living in India, with 900 or so estimated to be in the Maharashtra area. However, their population currently faces a number of threats. Perhaps most worryingly, their biggest of those threats is from poaching.
Leopard skins and body parts are often sold illegally throughout not only India, but China and Nepal, too. On top of this, India’s agricultural development and enormous human population mean that the natural predators often have to compete with people for space and resources.
It may come as no surprise, then, that it’s not the first time that a leopard has become trapped in a well. Indeed, the Wildlife SOS website chronicles other tales of dramatic wild cat rescues of the same nature.
In fact, one such story also took place in Junnar. A five-year-old female had been looking at her reflection in a well when she misplaced her footing and was sent plummeting into the water.
The poor animal was stranded there overnight – until a local farmer discovered her perched on a tiny, arid outcrop. He immediately alerted the forest department, which were, again, able to pull the leopard to safety.
Explaining on its website why this seems to be such a common problem in the area, Wildlife SOS wrote, “A rapidly growing population, coupled with the unchecked expansion of farmlands in the region has severely compromised not just the jungle territory of the leopards of Junnar, but also their water sources.”
It continued, “It’s not uncommon to find the big cats wandering out of the jungles and into the neighboring villages in search of water sources.” Given their plight, then, it’s hard to blame them.
Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan added, “Leopards are often spotted in this area. There are several sugarcane fields that provide a safe cover to these animals, who are struggling to find a foothold in the vanishing forests due to unwarranted invasion of their natural habitat.”
The animal charity often shares videos of its rescues on social media, highlighting its work and the plight of the creatures it helps. Thanks to its dedication, then, Wildlife SOS is helping to save India’s indigenous wildlife population from an uncertain fate.