A leopard, a village and a photographer's conscience

From a respectful distance, I have always admired Kalyan Varma for his gift - the talent to tell stories and unravel mysteries through his wildlife photographs. But his coverage, in March this year, of a leopard trapped in the village of Valparai is sheer testament to the fact that this young man is no mere shutterbug collecting photographic souvenirs in our forests and trading them for awards. He is what wildlife conservation needs with utmost urgency -- a wildlife photojournalist with a conscience. 

Not many people I know want to run into a leopard in the wild. So when one comes visiting a village, it is far from welcome. The leopard in this story was not above blame - it was responsible for the death of a young girl. It doesn't take much to anger a village and this killing provided ample tinder to fan a blazing hatred for the cat. A trap was set and the leopard was caught. The dramatis personae - villagers, forest officers, policemen and local press photographers - all played their part. The fallen hero, of course, was the leopard. What struck me about Kalyan's account was the irony of the 'shoot'. A veterinarian tries - first in vain - to bring the cat down, while all the while Kalyan clicks away feverishly, capturing through his trained eye the predicament of a wild animal that is down, but far from out.

In his journal, Kalyan writes: 'A tear rolled down its eye and the leopard slowly went down. I cocooned myself from the whole crowd as the cops were taking care of them and I could not see anything but the face of the leopard through the camera. I just broke down at this point and walked away.' 

Read all about it here 

Salut, Kalyan Varma. For boldly doing what no wildlife photographer has dared do before - for bringing out in detail the inexorable sadness of human-animal conflict.