Many years ago, when cities were few and far between and we had very few zoos to keep and display animals, there was a pristine forest teeming with wildlife. As the day broke, the birds would come out and wake up rest of the animals from their well-deserved slumber. The animals frolicked around throughout the day and went to their resting places during the night. Then, the larger ones would come out and kill a few animals to feed themselves. Thus the animals led a peaceful life together in this closed ecosystem. The forest served them all their needs.
Except during the dry months when the water bodies ran dry and many of the herbivores moved to the outskirts near human habitation where they had access to food and water meant for their domesticated counterparts. This was a cruel time for those that stayed behind, especially the larger ones who were essentially disadvantaged by their meal preferences. Their dietary habits were such that they couldn’t partake of the plenty that the forest had to offer, which was essentially vegetarian. When very desperate, they had no choice but to go after the cattle and also smaller animals whose lives revolved around humans. But this provided only one meal, at the most, for the humans would soon come looking for them and ensure no more lives were lost. So perish they must, of hunger or human vengeance, but this is how the numbers are controlled ensuring each has enough to survive.
It was one such hot day. A grazing cow got separated from the herd and had strayed into the forest. Aware of the perils that lurked there, she preferred turning back before she herself was feasted upon. But the jungle is a different world altogether and its denizens were already aware of her arrival and subsequent movements. One female leopard was already stalking her, waiting for an opportune time & location to go for the kill. She had to feed her hungry cubs too. It was over four days since the family last had a decent meal. But it was a matter of minutes now. The cow will soon be out in the open and ready for the kill. Till then, she just had to keep enough distance between them so as not to alarm the cow. Stealth and speed were her weapons & she was in familiar territory.
But her sharp senses felt another, unwanted presence. She froze and merged in the background. Slowly she turned around to look in the direction of the presence. She felt it moving forward with bold & confident steps unmindful of its environs. Then, she saw it. A young leopard, who had often been seen here earlier and was such a nuisance. He was a loner but had no hesitation in breaking the laws of the jungle. Now it was also going after the stray cow, for no one in the forest can resist an easy meal.
This was going to be a tough day. This young male would not be shy away from fighting for the cow. But this was not what worried her. His carefree, reckless movement could alarm the cow who would then escape unhurt. There was considerable distance between the prey & the hunters to cover quickly. The chase would anyway deplete her energy reserves. And if she failed to get the prey, her family would have to go another day without food. Making it more difficult for her to get another kill. There was no way she could abandon this prey for another predator. This was going to be a desperate hunt, for survival.
The two contenders continued stalking the cow who had now moved into open land. It was just a matter of few minutes and they were prepared to fight it out at the end. Then, all of a sudden, the cow started running. But instead of going forward towards the village it turned right, closer to the young leopard’s path. As the dust cleared behind her they saw a tiger chasing the cow. A leap later and it had her neck in its jaws. The cow gave up the struggle soon. The tiger put it down and lay besides it, gathering its breathe. It was all over for the two leopards.
But, no. The young male leopard did not stop. It kept moving ahead. This was not normal. But the mother leopard made a quick decision. She followed the younger one. If there was to be a confrontation with the tiger, she would go along with the younger leopard. If not the entire kill, she would manage to get something for her cubs and herself too. The next day would bring other opportunities.
The young leopard, it seemed, had read her thoughts and welcomed her decision. The two moved forward and now were very close to the kill. The tiger, seeing them, had shrugged off the post-hunt lethargy and had taken up position to protect his kill even if it called for fighting off two leopards. Dealing with a single leopard was an easy task. Dealing with two leopards was also not so difficult but these were looking desperate. The very fact that they had not gone away but were just a leap away from the kill proved they had transcended fear. Rarely does one see an animal not afraid of the tiger.
The tiger had moved in front of the kill. The leopards would have to go past him if they intended to reach the kill. And the leopards too stood their ground. Facing the tiger together gave each added courage. This was going to be a fight to the finish. Neither the leopards nor the tiger were in a mood to share the spoils.
What happens next? For that we will have to wait for events to play out in Karnataka!!