Addressing the Needs of Ageing Leopards
A specialised geriatric care routine is the need of the hour for the ageing leopard population of leopards. We shed light on the Leopard Rescue Centre in Junnar, Maharashtra, established by Wildlife SOS where the majestic spotted felines live the last few years of their lives in dignity and with care.
Maharashtra is a stronghold for the leopard population in India, but over the years, these elusive wild cats that once roamed freely across the vast terrains of the Western Ghats, have had to adapt to the ever-changing landscape; a direct result of human-induced factors like habitat destruction, rapid urbanisation, and encroachment of forested areas.
The Wildlife SOS Leopard Rescue Centre is home to over 30 rescued leopards
Wildlife SOS established the Leopard Rescue Centre in Junnar, Maharashtra, keeping in mind the increased incidents of man-leopard conflict in the proximity of the towns and villages. What started as a cause to save a few leopards, rescued from situations of serious man-animal conflict now has over 30 leopards rescued from situations of distress, conflict, and life-threatening circumstances.
Today, in the lush green, thick forested area of the Leopard Rescue Centre, these leopards are being cared for by a team of expert caregivers and veterinarians. As the leopards take relaxing naps, perch themselves atop trees and indulge in self-grooming sessions, we, at Wildlife SOS understand their past and how far they have come. The most unique aspect of the leopards under our care is that almost 70% of them are over the age of 12 years, which means they need a specialised geriatric care routine.
The leopards at Wildlife SOS enjoy a lush green environment with plenty of enrichments to keep them active and fit
A leopard enters the latter phase of their lives from the age of 12 years onwards, although this age group varies from species to species; for the leopards, this is the phase where they encounter more dental problems, joint issues, and a marked change in their overall behaviour and personality. Even for the leopards under our care, that have grown old with us, the change is absolutely distinct as we would spot an energetic Samrat spend most of his time sharpening his claws against tree barks, climbing trees and enthusiastically rolling in the mud! As he grew older, we noticed his energy levels plummet, as he would spend most of his time napping after an exhaustive session of playing and rolling around in the mud. Today, at the grand old age of 20, Samrat lives a slow-paced life, walking around slowly in his enclosure, and carefully climbing the trees in his enclosure.
With age, the leopards become less active and require specialised care
Under the geriatric care routine, our veterinarians add specialised immune boosters, multivitamins, and calcium supplements to help control the onset of joint problems that may cause severe discomfort to the leopards making the strength return to their bones. The multivitamin syrups help in maintaining core strength and building stronger immunity in order to prevent any ectoparasitic infection that may put their lives at risk. For the older leopards, even the feed rendered to them is softened in hot water, serving the dual purpose of proper disinfection and softening of the feed for them to easily enjoy their meal.
All of our leopards undergo routine health checkups and procedures. A common roadblock that is always encountered by felids, whether tigers or leopards, is the dental issues they face as they grow older. The leopards suffer from broken teeth, accumulation of plaque and tartar, and root problems. Leopards have a set of 32 teeth that are, essentially, razor-sharp to pierce through the skin of their prey. With such an important task for the teeth, they are bound to suffer from these serious problems that hamper their ability to chew food properly. Unable to eat, they suffer serious inappetence which compromises their immunity. Our veterinarians perform regular dental check-ups for clean-ups and to check for half-broken teeth or blunt canines that may pose a problem.
Many of the leopards were victims of man-animal conflict such as Ganesh, who is visually impaired
For leopards like Ganesh and Vitthal, who have physical disabilities, their incapacitation came from situations of serious man-animal conflict that left them fighting for their life. Ganesh is at a complete loss of sight, at the age of 12, and has to tread carefully around his enclosure, which is why the team has created olfactory enrichments that encourage him to rely more on his sense of smell rather than sight.
The older leopards also need a sufficient amount of motivation to use their enrichments which is why their keepers strategically place their food around the enclosure. The smell of the feed allows them to walk around their enclosure, stretch along with the barks of the trees and jump over a few shrubs to find their food! Enrichments become important for leopards in our care as it gives them the opportunity to tap into their instincts and natural behaviour, the way they would in the wild, and encourage them to use their motor skills and cognitive skills.
Leopard trio- Asha, Usha & Nisha at the Wildlife SOS Leopard Rescue Centre
As an organisation dedicated towards the care of these majestic cats, to support them in their old age and to allow them to comfortably live out their lives with us becomes the ultimate guiding light in the work that we do, to safeguard the wild. As the sun sets over the Leopard Rescue Centre, in Maharashtra, we are filled with a renowned sense of hope, in these harrowing times, to continue caring for the leopards with each passing day.