Sept 19, 2019


Conventional wisdom suggests humans and animals can't co-exist. Eventually, we'll kill them all. Yet, Bera, in Rajasthan, is an exception to that ghastly rule

Words: Shourya Jain

It’s a struggle as old as time itself. Man versus wild. Over the past 10,000-plus odd years that we have been around, in spite of all our natural handicaps we have managed to not just win that contest each time but also turn it into a no-contest. So much so that we have successfully wiped out half the world’s wilderness and with it, half the world’s animals. Selfish and self-centred, we never stopped to think if there was a way to change that phrase to man and wild. Thankfully, the trend has bucked somewhat with more and more conservationists talking about the need to preserve. From the eloquence with which they hold forth on things like co-existence, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this co-habitation lobby must comprise only the well-educated urban gentry who are aware of global ecological issues. And that’s about the time when you should hear about this tiny nondescript village in Rajasthan. Bera.

Most of you would have never heard of this small place just off Rajasthan State Highway 62, but Bera is of great significance to the man-animal co-existence lot for it is here that humans have learnt to share habitat with wild leopards. Located between Udaipur and Mount Abu, getting to this village is actually easier than getting around once you’re here. Tourism isn’t popular yet, and perhaps we should keep it like that. If you do come here you’ll find none of the trappings of a regular wildlife safari. No open topped Gypsy-s or buses in olive drab waiting at concrete arched gateways to take you on a wild ride. You’ll have to do some legwork to actually find the few old 4x4s that are run by the locals for those willing to pay the scant fees that they want to charge. Accommodation options are limited too. A few fairly biggish properties have sprung up in recent times but Bera is still very much in the realm of uncharted territories, which is also its charm, for this is real.

Having grown up in Abu, we have known about Bera for a long time and this wasn’t my first visit to the village. Little did I know however what a special and eye-opening visit this was going to be. In the scorching heat of April, we waited under a sparse tree hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive cat. The exact number of leopards here isn’t known but locals will tell you there is a dense concentration of these beautiful animals here. Something I know because I have sighted these cats every single time I have visited here. However, neither the weather nor luck was in our favour that day even though we were barely 300 metres from the small hill that was known to be the den of a leopard family.

We tried to kill some of the afternoon boredom by chatting with the villagers who have made peace with their livestock being forever under threat. Towards early evening when we began to lose light, and with it, hope, despite the powerful searchlights on our 4x4, we saw a cow walk by. And almost instantly, this was followed by a hushed silence that made the hair stand on end. Signs of a predator on the move. Exactly where the path curved slightly ahead of us, we saw a noiseless cloud of dust and rushed there to be greeted by the sight of two leopards clinging on to the cow that had just crossed us. One had gone for the windpipe and the other had its teeth dug deep into its back.

Seeing this, our driver swung into action, honking and flashing the vehicle’s lights until the leopards bolted. We then approached the cow, which turned out to be relatively unscathed in spite of its ordeal. I couldn’t help but ask if it was right to interfere with the workings of Mother Nature. “Our livelihood depends on our livestock. We understand that it’s wrong to snatch away their food as it may result in a mishap someday. But what to do?” he told us. That’s when the truth dawned on me. We don’t have to kill them all, protecting our own without the need for violence. It can be man and wild and doesn’t always have to be man vs wild.

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