Chengalpattu, a southwestern suburb of Chennai on the Grand Southern Trunk road is surrounded by reserve forests and hills, giving way to number of wildlife species living at peace. But it’s hard to believe big cats like leopard exists! I wasn’t surprised when the news spread about spotting leopards on the outskirts of Chennai, but I was quite amazed nearly a year ago when I come to know about the Karadi Malai Camp (KMC) bordering Vallam Reserve Forest on the Chengalpattu-Thiruporur Road, through an article featured in the Hindu Metro Plus.
Karadi Malai Camp is a kind of home-stay-come-camp, providing opportunity to those who love to stay close with wildlife and it is also home to the well known snake man Romulus Whitaker, the founder of the Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. The Camp was run by him and his wife Janaki Lenin, whom I used to regularly follow on the Hindu Metro Plus, where she share her exciting stories and experience on the column “My husband and other animals”. You may think what is the connection between leopard and KMC? Because they are the first to come up with a camera-trap on leopard exist, setup on their camp several years ago. The “Karadi” is the name of their pet dog (German shepherd) which fall prey for the leopard and as a memory they dedicated the name of their pet to the camp.
It seems the leopard doesn’t stay at Vallam Reserve Forest alone; it has been traveling quite many places these days to fall into the sight of human beings to scare. For the last one year, more than 80 people had reported about the leopard activity around the division of Chengalpattu and Thiruporur where villages share boarders with reserve forests. But there’s no complaint of leopard attack on human! It is believed the behavior between the leopards living in the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats (ranging from Orissa to Sirumalai in Dindigul, on parts) perhaps vary, through their favorite prey remained dogs, the habitation of leopards in Eastern Ghats aren’t remote like the Western.
I have come across Vallam Reserve Forest and the stretch between Chengalpattu and Thiruporur many a time when visiting my great aunt, who had then settled on the outskirt of Chengalpattu with Vallam Reserve Forest as their rear. When there wasn’t car, we used to take the GST road to reach their home by bus, but later years our usually route had been through Thiruporur. Not only was it short, but fabulous to pass on countryside, hills and forests. Not to forget my maternal grandfather village is also on this route and it was my most favorite place then to spend our summer vacations.
Those days we had to change three buses to reach my grandfather village and sometime we take vans from Kelambakkam. From Thiruporur, it was quite forest then until my grandfather’s village junction and it used to be terrific when we travel in car during nights. Many a time we had returned in nights from the village, when we go on as a day visits. The road was also narrow then to allow only one vehicle to pass at a time and either of them has to do off-road to give way for the other and this stretch would go through pitch dark in nights, where the shining eyes of animals would scare.
|my old picture on chengalpattu-thiruporur (forest) road|
I used to wonder many times what all animals are there in this forest, but until now I have seen only bonnet monkeys, peacocks, mongooses and wild rabbits. Hence I know there are jackals, deer and number of snakes, birds and reptiles. During our visits to the village, our uncle there used to take us to the forest adjoin their agriculture fields to pick cashews nuts. It was the most exciting thing for us then and we used to look forward to this opportunity to take a stick and venture into the forest. He also warns us to not make noise to keep away the forest officers, punishing for entering the forest without permission. There used to be number of deer’s in these forests, but now all are hunted down for meat by the villagers and even there is a horn of blackbuck still lying at my grandfather’s house.
Even during my last drive across this route in April, I find few sign boards mentioning deer crossing area at Illalur Reserve Forest close to Thiruporur town! Back to leopard menace, it is believed the animal is the one that escaped from the Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur some years ago. But we can’t be sure, though the leopard hadn’t been trapped yet; the officials of the park still maintains a contraction message whether the animal escaped really or not. From wherever it may comes to exists, I am quite amazed how the leopard inhabiting very close to human habitation without disturbing each other all these years. It has also made clear, how wonderful our ecosystems should have been, still to make sustain a big cats like leopards in these small reserve forests, scattered among the villages and farmlands. I wish the government shows serious concern on protecting these forests and promote planting more saplings to maintain a much better forest environment to welcome back the lose species of this land.
Thanks to the Karadi Malai Camp proprietors who are already in line of promoting the environment of Vallam Reserve Forest and creating water pools inside the forest to help animals in dry season. It is believed the leopards don’t come out of the forest unless their food source becomes scarce. I don’t think this leopard is intend to attack human (since no man is injured by it), but we perhaps come across them while they migrate from one patch of forest to another in search of prey. No doubt that anyone would scare seeing a dangerous animal all of sudden interrupt their way. I too wish alike anyone, before it become a man-animal conflict (since the leopard seems to wander into human habitation) forest official take some action that does not disrupt the freedom of man and animal.