When the Leopard stood waiting Impatiently for Dijo Thomas in the dead of the Night .....

Wildlife Enthusiasts & Friends of Dijo Thomas had been, for a long time, been requesting him to publish his vast Heart Stopping & Unbelievable Interactions with Wild Elephants, Leopards, Tigers etc. Till now he didn't show much interest.

Many a time, he played with Wild Elephants during day time, near Forest roads, seen by lot of passers-by. They spread the tales of his engagements with them. In Wayanad, Idukki, Trivandrum, Tamil Nadu, Bandipur, Nagherholae etc.

Finally, DijoThomas narrates some of them ......

When the Leopard stood waiting Impatiently for Dijo Thomas in the dead of the Night .....

Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary - 2011

Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary: It was the final day of the Wildlife Census. A Photographer from Kozhikode (a distant relative of then CWW Raja Raja Varma), a Teacher who is also an activist & Myself were participating along with the Forest officials, in the week long General Wildlife Census in 2011.

Our Block was in the Core area of Muthanga Wildlife Sanctuary. The First day we walked around 26 Km, crisscrossing the rich Forest, but we didn’t have much sighting. Our Forester – in – charge Mr. Suresh, was quite surprised at that, as this is an area, abundant with Wild Elephants, Gaur, Boars etc. It had even one of the highest concentrations of Tigers in India. He kept repeating it, as he knew we were greatly disappointed.

I was not that surprised, because I knew the reason. Animals and Forests have a way of Responding to different People in different ways. When a Forest finally accepts a person, only will it start Revealing its Mysteries, one by one.

In the absence of any wildlife, the highlight of our first day was a “Country Cock”. By afternoon we had walked a lot. First an 8 Km trek with provisions for 1 week to the Camp Shed. Then we started our wildlife census. When we finished it, it was almost lunch time. But the lunch was, again almost 5 Km away.

Tired, disappointed, hungry; but nothing affecting us as we were so exited, we trekked to an important geographical location – the Tri-Junction – where the Forests of Kerala, Tamil Nadu & Karnataka meets. Then we trekked back to another Camp Shed for our lunch. Where we met the highlight of the day - a Country Cock grown by the Adivasi Family, who lived inside the Trench in the Camp Shed. After much bargaining we fixed a price of Rs. 450 for it, the cost to be equally shared by the Photographer & me [on condition that when I have money]. [After 8 years, I still owe him my share.]

Even after 1 week, we didn’t have much sighting. We saw lot of Mlavu [Sambar deer] & one night a herd of Elephants advanced to our Camp Shed in a single line, eating a special grass found there.

One day I took a solo trek to another Camp Shed 4 Kms away, with only a small torch, which had only a dim light. The Forester in charge that day, a new one, didn’t want me take it as night it is the territory of Wild Elephants, Gaurs, Tigers, Leopards, Bears etc – a deadly attack was more likely than not. Therefore nobody ventures out of the Trench in the night.

In fact a person was badly mauled almost to death, by a Bear, right in front of our Camp Shed. The person’s face was badly disfigured. The angry Bear, used to come to the place of attack, every day, and sniff around. For more than 1 week, Exactly at the time of the day when the attack took place.

I had to turn back as two Gaurs were fighting on the road, blocking my way.

The Last Day -
Missing a Leopard on a tree

We were returning to the Range Office, as the census was over. Two times the previous days, there were sounds of Tiger. But seeing a Tiger is nearly an Impossible thing.
Then suddenly Suresh stopped and gestured – there was the sound of Tiger moving away. Everyone was filled with Excitement & followed him as quietly as possible.
I pretended to follow, but I slowly slipped from the group.
I knew Tigers very well – they will move away – mostly – from human contact. Not because that they are afraid, but because they do Not trust humans – the most Crooked of all Animals.

I moved away from the group, in a direction which I thought the Tiger may take. That area was somewhat thick, with lot of tall trees and creepers covering bushes. I searched for one or two Kilometers, but no sign of any tiger. I was now far away from the group. When I thought to turn back, I lost my way.
Finally I was able to find the group. There was laugher & excitement – I knew they saw something. When they saw me they all competed to tell their sighting – a Leopard – that too in a tree preparing for an ambush.
At first I thought they were setting me up, but the Photos in the camera confirmed it. A very beautiful & young Leopard.

My disappointment was as high as the Himalayas. When they saw my disappointment, the teasing increased. To rub salt on the wound, they even claimed that, there were no sightings all through the week – only because I was present. [ I knew they were right, in a way, but to be sure, I never acknowledged it.]

I was so disappointed and angry at missing the Leopard, that I wanted to sight one that day itself. Till that day, I had never sighted one in the Forest, though I had come across its signs a few times. The rest of the travel back, the whole group were in high spirits, they had the Leopard; now they had me as a punching bag.
I didn’t register much, as my mind was far away - I was trying to figure out various schemes on how to sight a Leopard that day itself. A Totally Impossible Task – that a person who knows the forest will surely say that I had gone out of my mind. You have to remember that till then I hadn’t sighted a Leopard in the forest, despite a lot of Travels & Adventures – in Kerala, Karnataka & Tamil Nadu.

I decided to stay back at the Range Office & slip away into the forest at night.
By this time my “Reputation” had spread all over the place – I was given permission by the Range Officer on the strict condition that I will not step outside the room. I nodded my head in such a way the – it could be a Yes or it could be a No. As if reading my mind, the RO further warned that if I went into the Forest that night, I will never again be allowed in that Division for any program. That sealed it.
The night I stood outside my quarters in Muthanga Range Office – which is near the road from Gundelpet in Karnataka to Sultan Battery – weighing different options – including slipping away to the Forest after everybody slept. But the Watchers – obviously instructed by the RO – were just doing that – asking me when I was going to bed.

The Leopard waits in the dead of Night

There were about 50 – 60 deers grazing outside. Some of them lifted their heads and kept looking mockingly – as if to say that they are all that I am going to get for the night.

Then I heard foot steps – a Forester, whom I have not met till then, appeared – he told me he was going to check the baby elephant
– 5 months old – obtained from a stream & being looked after by a Adivasi family, living a couple of hundred meters from there, on the edge of the ROffice, as he was in charge. he said he was in a hurry. I saw an opportunity, however small. It was better than standing outside the Quarters. But the Forester, who was a very cautious man, flatly denied permission. He was to retire in a couple of months. [I don't remember his name - Manoj maybe, but not difficult to find].

He started walking, I blocked him with my stories of my playing with Wild Elephants. He again will walk a few steps, only to be blocked by me with another story. He was a quiet man from Kozhikode – he had no children. He loved the elephant calf like his own child. The ritual of him starting & me blocking continued for more than half an hour.

Finally I thought it was ripe to ask permission again – and did it in a way he couldn’t deny. He reluctantly gave it. We first went to the watchers who were guarding the Sandal wood & had a hot coffe in the cold night. Then we started & walked another couple of hundred meters to the small village.

I am a lazy person who does things only at the last moment. I am always late for appointments. That day too, I was the one who was late. The Leopard was impatiently waiting for me.
The Magnificent fully grown Leopard was standing just about 30 meters from where we had to turn from the road to the house. It was standing in the middle of the Road – in a slight angle.

The chance of seeing a Leopard in a month itself is nearly impossible, if You take an one month effort - seeing one that day itself is Totally Impossible. It doesn't have even a one in million chance.

Note: The Photos of Leopard here is NOT connected to the incident & is for representation purpose only.

The Leopard was standing absolutely still, right in the middle of the mud road leading into the forest. The moonlight cast a very beautiful spell on the whole area. As it was only a few days from fullmoon, there was more than enough light to see it clearly. The magnificient head was held proudly high. It was standing in an angle, so that the whole body was visible. But the spots on the body was not that clear.

Mostly, when Big Cats feel the presence of human beings, they melt into the surroundings, you most of the time will not see it. But my Leopard was just the opposite, he stood there right in the middle of the road to show off. As I was so particular that I wanted to see the Leopard that day itself.

I stood on the road deeply enjoying it, the outer calm hiding the huge Tsunami of happiness blowing inside. The Forester after one minute had hastly turned to the narrow foot path leading to the Adivasi houses. He started calling me in very soft tunes in urgent voice. Though he was a cool guy, he was not at all the one to take risks. I didn't pay him any attention. I stood there enjoying the unbelivable incident. The forester had now turned towards the village & continued calling me in hushed tones. In the perphary of my vision, I could see his hands waving fanatically for me to follow.

We had been standing there for full two minutes by then. I extended my hand towards him for the torch. I started to ask for it, but didn't. I thought not to pressure him further. Anyway he would not give. The Leopard had'nt made any movement all this time.

The urgency of the Forester's voice increased. It is not at all in my nature to leave till my friend from the forest had left, in such circumstances. But here, I decided to leave. I didn't want to give the good Forester more worry. If not for him, I would not have seen the Leopard, on the day itself I wanted to.

Very sadly, I followed him. We reached the house of the Adivasi mahout, who was taking care of the baby elephant. The lovely baby was tied to a tree with a small rope. He had already started making long cries for his next round of milk. We spend above half an hour with him.

We reached back to the Watchers guarding the Sandalwood trees. The log fire there was very plasent, in the chill of the Forest Night. I remarked to him about the beauty of the Leopard. "So you saw it?" was his first remark, which I felt strange and off the mark. But then I understood - it was an understatement for the Wonderful Unexpected Encounter.

Which one of the two may not have wanted at all - while the other would give anything for that - especially that to happen that Night itself.

The next day I called Forester & others, one by one, first thing in the morning. The first five minutes they surely didn't believe me - I too wouldn't have believed them if the sequence was reversed. They thoyght I was just teasing them. After 5 or 7 minutes only I did tell them the Forester's name. They surely was shocked like anything.

The Muthanga Forest had given me an Unbelivable & Priceless Present.

It was looking at us, as if saying "Well, you badly wanted to see me, Today itself. Here I am".





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