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Offbeat, Unconventional and unusual careers 

As the sun was about to set, veterinarian Ajay Deshmukh and his team stood in the sugarcane field at Vadgaon Anand, Maharashtra, and took one final look at the set up – leaves and grass around a crate in which they had put the baby leopard.
The cub was curled up snugly in the crate and Deshmukh’s team tiptoed to their car parked about 100 metres away. Then they waited, for over four hours, until they finally saw something move in the dark. It was the mother. She came to the crate, carefully screened the area, picked up her cub and dashed away .
The team exchanged tired smiles and drove off. This was the 25th reunion of a lost cub with its mother that Deshmukh and his team had facilitated since 2009, seven of them this year alone.

What do you do ?

Deshmukh is the go-to guy each time a leopard cub is found separated from the mother – a frequent event in these parts.”The landscape of the region has changed. There are sugarcane fields on large tracts of land now and leopards choose fields to mate and give birth on.Usually , it is safer for the cubs here than in the forest as there are no predators here. Every once in a while, though, the mother and the cubs get separated,” says Deshmukh, a senior vet with Wildlife SOS, which runs the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre in Junnar. After handling over two dozen such cases, Deshmukh has perfected the drill from rescue to care to reunion.

How do you care care of these wild animals?

The first thing we do is to examine the cub thoroughly . There should be no injuries and it should be fully fit. Cubs more than three months old are given deworming medication and vaccination shots” If the vets think the cub is dehydrated or hungry , they feed it diluted milk. But sometimes, they prepare for an immediate release.

What are the challenges?

But before the release is planned, local villagers have to be convinced. “Often the villagers are reluctant about releasing the animal in the same area. They ask us to capture the mother too and release the pair somewhere else. We have to win them over; without their cooperation, we cannot proceed,” says Kartick Satyanarayanan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS.

How successful has this initiative been?

The team’s effort has not gone unnoticed. Chief conservator of forests, Jeet Singh, says the success rate of Deshmukh’s team has a lot to do with the specialized knowledge available to them.”In veterinary colleges across the country, most of the practical experience students get is on domestic animals. Rarely do they get hands-on experience on wild animals,” Singh says. The group is getting better at its work with each case. “The team has learned from experience. Initially, we would try keeping a watch on the animals with a camera trap, but that would scare the mother away so now we rely on torches. It would be great if we had night-vision binoculars or cameras, but at present we don’t have the equipment,” says Deshmukh.