Lt Gen Raj Sujlana (retd)
The campus of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) is surrounded by many reserve forests. Over the years, increased intrusion of human footprint into the forests has led to an exodus of wildlife towards civilisation. The campus has received its share of wildlife ingress, especially of leopards. Dana-pani took me there as a gentleman cadet (GC) in 1970, an instructor a decade later, a senior staff officer in the mid-90s and later as a Commandant. Earlier, a leopard around the campus was a rarity, but in the mid-90s, and later, it was almost a routine. Close encounters were numerous and, at times, dangerous.
Early one morning, a GC with a bursting bladder rushed out to visit the toilet. Ahead in the corridor, he tried to shoo off what he thought was a dog who didn’t budge. Reality dawned, a quick rearward sprint got him to the safety of his cabin. Another was faced by a JCB driver who, in the process of clearing some bushes, had a leopard pounce out snarling at him. Danger begets the best thought — in reverse gear he sped off. Another panthera pardus, a regular visitor to the golf course, loved the fourth green. Close to dusk, many a four-ball had to retrace their steps without recovering their approach shots, as parked on the green was the feline guest!
Hunting or trapping was a big no, the byword being, ‘Preserve environment, save wildlife’. But countermeasures were necessary, the option lay only in prophylactic ones. Col Charlie Thapa, a keen environmentalist posted there, volunteered to take on this task. A quick study of pugmarks, disturbed foliage and a cage trap was positioned near the trail of the ‘golf addict’. His expertise unfolded next morning. The feline beauty was trapped. Inquisitiveness saw me facing a leopard from close quarters. His sudden roar sent quivers down the spine. He was taken away by the WWF and released in a jungle.
By the time I reached the IMA in the first decade of the 21st century, leopard visits were almost a routine. The south campus was bounded by a 10-ft wall, but it was kid’s play for the leopards—a casual spring was enough to get across. Varied training activities were conducted, including laying and unsnarling of jungle traps among clumps of trees and patches of shrubbery. All traps were recovered, but an odd trap skipped the eye. Reality dawned when angry roars resonated from the undergrowth. To our horror, a leopard lay stuck. Once again, the WWF came to our rescue.
The north campus was wide open. Here, leopards loved an almost daily visit to the residences of the Commandant and Deputy Commandant, as if to counter their authority at the academy. Intrigued, house guests looked out to see one live and free; some were lucky, some not. For those who got a glimpse, it was an unforgettable experience. One not so lucky was the chief guest on the Passing-out Parade. Despite it being a ‘Presidential Order’, the leopard was in no mood to please. The chief guest was the President!
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