The leopard is an elusive and shy creature. But in Bera, a small village in Pali district of Rajasthan, it can be spotted with amazing regularity.
In fact, that Bera leopards could be role models for man-animal relationship as the latter live in peaceful coexistence with the humans.
And wildlife conservationist Shatrunjay Pratap Singh is ensuring that the status quo remains unchanged.
For Shatrunjay, the love affair with these creatures started when he was studying at a missionary boarding school, St Mary’s, at Mount Abu. “We have a farm close to Bera which I’ve been visiting since childhood.
That’s how I am acquainted with the area. Once I came to the farm, the only entertainment was going to Bera and seeing the leopards,” says the 35-year-old.
However, conservation of any kind was not really on his mind as Shatrunjay initially chose to follow a career in wine making.
Then, during one of his farm visits, he was informed that the government had allotted nine mining leases with another 144 in the pipeline for the Bera area and nobody was raising a voice against it.
This was the turning point when Shatrunjay decided to trade his career in winemaking for conserving and protecting the area and its creatures, who roamed free and wild.
“I think it was around 2015 when the shift happened. I had been working for Sula Wines then,” he recalls. Soon, the government terminated all leases for the mines in the area as well as the 144 new ones that were in the pipeline.
“It certainly was a major achievement for wildlife conservation in India. Nowhere in the world has this happened and the credit goes to former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje for taking such a stand. It would have resulted in a total disaster not only for the wildlife but also for the herders, the Rabari community, who would have been deprived of a place to graze their livestock,” says Shatrunjay.
A simple Google search on Bera points out that the area is known as the leopard country. A look at the forest records throws up the fact that leopards have been inhabiting this region for more than a century. “The mountainous terrain makes it a perfect habitat for them.
Secondly, the local community, known as Rabaris, are herdsmen who with their domestic livestock ensure a plentiful supply of prey for the big cats,” he says.
It’s no surprise that there has never been a human-leopard conflict in Bera. Moreover, when a leopard does take off with an animal, the tribesmen, who are believers of Shiva, consider it an offering to the God. The norm is that the forest department is to compensate the community for the loss of livestock. With an eye on conservation, Shatrunjay has settled in this region along with his family. He has established the Bera Safari Lodge, a small boutique property on 10 acres of land with five beautifully laid out cottages, designed by his wife.
“A bit of commerce is necessary to sustain conservation and the locals also get employment,” he says. Shatrunjay keeps track of all the leopards in the area, getting up at 4.30 am to do a recce in order to take guests to see the magnificent creatures in the evenings. “Every time we spot them, it is a magical experience,” he says. The area also has sloth bears, hyenas, chinkaras, rusty spotted cats and a lot of migratory bird species. The conservationist feels that most of human-animal conflicts arise from human errors. “Like in the villages, most people go to relieve themselves early in the morning and the animal cannot identify what is what which is when conflicts happen. There is a saying that once you have seen a leopard, it has already seen you a hundred times over,” sums up the conservationist.