When a leopard in northern India found itself splashing around at the bottom of a well following a fall in early June 2018, the big cat may well have used up one of its nine lives. The no-doubt confused creature might not have known quite how it plunged some 25 feet to reach its current lowly position, but it must have been aware that it was now trapped. Something else the luckless leopard did not know, however, was that someone had spotted it taking a tumble. And when the distress call went up, it did so from a highly unlikely source – perhaps the last quarter that the imprisoned predator could have expected any mercy from.
Rajasthan is a vast and varied part of north-western India. In fact, it is the largest state in the country and is home to a sensational array of fascinating and often very scarce wildlife. From the Great Indian Bustard to the Slender Racer snake, to the more recognizable tiger and, indeed, the lesser-spotted leopard, there is no shortage of endangered and threatened species to be found in the region. And so there are opportunities aplenty for visiting animal lovers to get up close and personal with rare nature in the raw amid this beautiful part of the world.
Nevertheless, while the area’s wildlife is certainly a draw for many vacationing tourists, to the 68 million natives who inhabit the state, sharing their day-to-day lives with animals is pretty much second nature. That was why, when some worshippers at a temple in the northern Rajasthan city of Sikar noticed some monkeys gathering noisily around a well in June 2018, they apparently did not think much of the chattering commotion at first.
However, from the primates’ agitated behavior it was clear for the city’s citizens to see that something was up – or rather, down. The concerned monkeys were all looking into the watering hole while chitter-chattering continually and jumping around. From an outsider’s perspective, the animals appeared to be deeply distressed. So, intrigued, some worshippers went over to investigate.
But nothing could have prepared the temple-goers for what they were about to find. Because when they peered down into the well, all they could see were a pair of gleaming peepers staring back up at them. The eyes belonged to a leopard who had somehow hurtled down the 25-foot drop into the dark water below and was now swimming for its life.
In the wild, the Indian leopard is a stealth-killing loner who has been known to prey on animals as large as a wildebeest. The smallest of the big cats, it nevertheless has a huge appetite, with a diet which ranges from the aforementioned sizable mammal down to the smallest insect. Furthermore, it is not unheard of for leopards to happily lunch on primates, much like the ones surrounding the well at Sikar. However, on that day in June 2018, it appeared the monkeys were not on the menu but on a mercy mission.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which categorizes the world’s animals according to their conservancy status, leopards are considered a vulnerable species. Their numbers have been hit because of population dispersal and the loss of their natural habitat. However, illegal hunting has also played an unfortunate part in the big cat’s downfall.
Indeed, over the years, unscrupulous poachers have targeted leopards in order to sell various pieces of their bodies, some of which can fetch large sums of money on the black market. In some parts of the world, leopard furs make for desirable decorative detail or fashionable accessories and apparel, while the beasts’ internal organs are often used in traditional medicines.
Because of the various threats which have faced the big cats in the recent past, it is believed by preservation experts that leopards only inhabit one-quarter of their former global territorial range. As a result, it is safe to say that every single life counts in the species’ battle for survival. So, with this in mind, it was a very good job indeed that the Sikar residents – both primate and human – stepped up to save the individual leopard in jeopardy down the city well.
After being alerted to the downed predator’s plight by the excitable troop of monkeys, the onlookers in Sikar reached out to specialist help near by. In U.K. tabloid the Daily Mail later that June, Devendra Singh Rathore, a local forest ranger, recalled, “We were informed about the incident at around 6:00 a.m. on the morning of 11 June. We immediately sent a team of rescue officials [to] the spot.”
In order to help the big cat back up on to dry land, Rathore and his rescue team lowered a crude wooden ladder into the well. Eventually, and after plenty of cajoling, the leopard finally padded up the rungs and clambered to safety. “The rescue operation lasted for nearly an hour,” Rathore revealed.
In smartphone video footage of the unusual rescue, which subsequently found its way online, a crowd of Sikar onlookers can be seen scrambling to make way for the exiting leopard. Once the sopping animal feels safe, it emerges wetly from the well, much to the surprise of a passing dog who promptly bolts off.
Without so much as a second glance at its human and monkey rescuers, the departing leopard darts towards the jungle before disappearing from view completely. However, while the big cat did not appear to acknowledge those who had helped it, nonetheless the freed animal must have been mightily relieved to be home and dry once more.
Subsequently, Rathore summed up the details of the successful Sikar retrieval to the Daily Mail. “We were able to rescue the wild cat using a ladder,” the ranger reported. “As soon as it came out of the well it ran towards the jungle. It didn’t attack [any person] or domestic animal…”
After having seen the animal to safety, the Sikar citizens and rescuers got their heads together and began to speculate about how exactly the pussy had ended up down the well in the first place. And, according to Rathore, the leopard’s mishap could well have come about due to natural causes.
Indeed, thanks to their extremely acute hearing and eyesight, leopards are naturally lethal hunters. However, the predators are usually at large in the hours of darkness. In light of this fact, Rathore believed that the big cat could have taken its mighty fall while chasing its next meal. He said, “It is possible the leopard had fallen into the well at night while following prey.”
Unfortunately, the leopard at Sikar was not the first and in all likelihood will not be the last animal to fall down a well in India. A quick internet search reveals that countless and varied creatures –including dogs, jaguars and even baby elephants – have all plummeted down the country’s water holes.
Luckily for this particular leopard, however, there was light at the top of the well and – thanks to man and monkey – a happy ending was secured. And for that reason, the footage of its rescue was widely celebrated when the video emerged online. In fact, the clip soon went viral, gaining news coverage far beyond the reach of Rajasthan and India.
However, as news of the leopard’s rescue spread worldwide, some skeptical viewers expressed their doubts over whether the Sikar monkeys had meant to call for help at all. “They were probably screeching obscenities rather than urging villagers to rescue it,” commented one cynical reader below the Daily Mail report.
Nevertheless, no matter what the primates’ motives may have been, there can be little doubt that their actions alerted rescuers to the endangered leopard in need. So whichever way you look at it, the monkeys played a massive part in the big cat’s eventual escape – whether the chattering masses intended to or not.