I have arrived at Panna Tiger Reserve with family and friends in the morning. We are accommodated at Hinouta Jungle Camp. The Complex is at the edge of the forest and just next to entry gate. It is almost staying the forest.
Summer is at its top. The temperature is souring past 45°C. Sun is shining white. We start for the forest in an open Zypsy. Even at 4 pm it feels like burning. We are driving on Hinouta Plateau.
Udaimani Singh Parihar, the forest guard of the area is in the front seat. I suggest to him that let us go to denser parts of jungle first and later in the open parts to avoid Sun and heat, as much as possible.
The sharp eyes of Udaimani notice a leopard at the edge of the forest at one place. This has been least expected or thought of. He whispers about it. My wife, Sunita, sitting just behind him gets the hint first and notices the animal for a flash as it is entering into the undergrowth. None of us, Suresh Pant, Mrs Sunita Pant and me see the animal. Mrs Pant is terribly disappointed and so are Suresh and me. Mrs Pant starts complaining, and like a child she starts thumping feet. “Why I could not see?”
Though the leopard is gone but we wait. We are praying, maybe, it appears once again. And it does! For mysterious reasons, the leopard takes U turn from left side where it has gone and crawls in bushes in front of us and goes towards the forest on the right. Sheer luck!
Lot of excitement. Mrs Pant is bubbly and says, “My luck. I have seen tiger number of times, but leopard only once.”
This has been a matter of seconds when whole drama happens though it may sound like a long event. Nevertheless, an event this has been. I notice that the leopard is full grown, black circle dominating yellowish base; length including tail may be 7-8 feet. It appears to be a male. I realise there has not been time or opportunity for taking a photo.
We all agree that this has been a great opportunity and amazing surprise. We have seen the animal clearly and that too in broad daylight. I notice, this is only 4.30 pm. I wonder, “How can a leopard operate in broad daylight in core tiger area? Is the leopard very bold? Is there greater tolerance of leopards by tigers in Panna? Is there no tiger operating in this area? Or, probably, it is sheer chance.”
There is jubilation. We decide to stop at the first chowki and have some tea, biscuit, and namkeen. I generally keep all the stuff in my bag.
There is quite a bit of brooding over the sighting. Suresh Pant says “My visit has become more than successful with the sighting.” My wife claims “I have seen the leopard most, twice!” I add “This has been a really big leopard. See, how it moved with stealth.”
Suresh raises a fundamental question, “We all have the desire to see a tiger whenever visiting a tiger reserve. Leopard does not appear even in thought. The paradox is, it is more difficult to spot a leopard than a tiger.”
“Indeed. Why we miss giving importance to our second largest cat?” I wonder and I say, “Sorry my dear leopard, we will be careful next time.”