In the distant world

AJT Johnsingh, Director of the Wildlife Institute of India, confirms that it will be difficult to place Bhagya in an Indian zoo. Also Urs Breitenmoser cannot help any further: "My wife has just returned from the EAZA [European Association of Zoos and Aquaria] meeting in Prague. All the zoos complain about too little space and not knowing what to do with surplus animals. Under these circumstances the possibility and willingness to accept a wild-born orphan that does not fit into the current breeding program are very slim. We too have had similar experiences with young orphaned lynx from the wilderness that we wanted to place. In Switzerland we are now recommending that the animals be left in the wild - if there is even a small chance for survival - or that they be killed immediately on the spot. Brutal, but it reflects the reality in zoos."
Dipendra Kali After a long walk through the rice fields Bhagya for the first time meets an elephant, who, loaded with grass, is just returning from the jungle. Bhagya is awfully impressed by his size and takes cover behind a low bush. There he keeps sitting as silent as a mouse and watches him intently with wide open eyes. Every once in a while he looks at me so incredulously, as if he has somehow found his way into a jungle book. The elephant flaps his ears nervously. Only when he has retreated far away into his shed, does Bhagya dare to leave his hiding place and even then he gazes at him for a long time.
Gerard has referred me to Sarel van der Merwe, Curator of Bloemfontain Zoo in South Africa and Chairman of the IUCN African Lion Working Group. Sarel is concerned about such an animal falling into the wrong hands and criticizes South African breeders for not always checking on the origin of their breeding stock. He asks for records and wants to know whether Bhagya is registered in the studbook. Having learnt more details about Bhagya's origin, he replies: "After serious consideration, I must unfortunately inform you that I cannot accept your leopard cub, because it is a different species from our own, and we would want to prevent any cross-breeding with our ex situ population." ( ex situ = living in captivity )

Other zoologists whom I contact in Germany, UK and USA forward my request for a new home for Bhagya to colleagues. But the few who answer refuse to take in a leopard cub that is not born in a zoo. This is how Alan Shoemaker, International Leopard Studbook Keeper, comes to know of Bhagya. In an email to several colleagues he maintains: "The owner wanted a pet leopard and undoubtedly obtained it illegally. It is undoubtedly wild born. I doubt seriously if any European or North American country would issue a permit, not to mention Pakistan, and I doubt seriously if any zoo in either region is interested in it."

Blithely unconcerned about doubtful zoo-bureaucrats, Bhagya takes a great fancy to the oxen and becomes seriously cross with whomever gets in his way. In the pasture he observes the oxen for some time from his cover and looks around to make sure that he is not discovered himself. When one of the unsuspecting grazing humpbacks turns his rear towards him, Bhagya stalks him by cautiously setting one paw in front of the other. In case the animal becomes aware of his approach, he instantly plops onto his side and starts to lick his paws innocently. Or he puts on an act of walking in this direction quite unintentionally, flicks his tail and turns round to look at me. When the beast looks away again, he immediately crouches fully alert, focuses on the animal and creeps towards it, until he finally succeeds in giving one hind leg a pat with his paw. Back off !
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