Representational image © Kalyan Varma
It is twilight and the leopardess sits licking her paws on a rocky patch outside her den and gazing at the forest below her. A gust of cool breeze blows through; the male cicadas are abuzz making sounds at varying intensities, as if ringing an alarm to wake up the forest from sleep. A group of noisy hornbills flies above the parakeets, both heading out for the same fruit on a distant tree. Water droplets are slowly evaporating from the sharp grass blade as if to authenticate the rising sun.
The hills are covered by trees much like patches of lichens on bare rock. Between these hills a river flows majestically, roaring as it makes its way across the landscape. The rising sun forms a silhouette of tall trees on hill tops. The dam ahead holds thousands of gallons of water, with drifting logs that look like crocodiles from a distance.
On the bank of this river there is an old temple with a big lustrous kalash on the top. A man holds up his wet, white dhoti that flutters in the wind like a giant flag. A group of people lie asleep under the shade of a tree along the temple road while some others are making arrangements for cooking.
The leopard cub comes out of the den looking for his mother. Watching his mother look down on the large numbers of people gathered, the cub asks:
Mother, what’s happening there?
Mother: Son, it’s time to change our den!
Cub: What? Why?
Mother: Son, they call these typical forest patches with a temple in it as ‘sacred groves’. Most of these are associated with indigenous tribal communities, who had lived here from many generations and believe in divinity of nature and natural resources.
Just then from down below comes the sound of loud chanting as the celebration reaches its climax.
Cub: If they worship nature as god, why they are creating such a nuisance here?
Mother: Today they are celebrating the festival of their deity. Clearing the forest undergrowth for setting up camp, lopping and cutting of trees for fuel wood, and soil erosion are sadly some problems caused by their prolonged stay. A particularly serious issue is the pollution of river. Open defecation and indiscriminate littering of food items, slaughtered animals, garbage along with the bleaching powder used to keep their hygiene; all gets washed into the river. (Sighs) In the name of god they are not only destroying us but slowly they are killing themselves.
Cub: Boo-hoo ….. Few minutes back you said they see nature as their god! If so then why they are doing this?
Mother: Because, they think of themselves as the rightful inheritors of this earth! And they are taking things for granted. This is not a right place for us. Let’s leave.
Cub: Now we are moving out of this place but what if we are disturbed in our next place as well?
Mother: I don’t know. (Shrugs)
Written by Suhas S N, who won the second place in the WCS-India Wildlife Week Contest.
Suhas is working as a research biologist in All India tiger project at Wildlife Institute of India Dehradun, Uttarakhand. He is also a teacher, amateur snake rescuer, bird watcher and a photographer.