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Leopard love invites stork

- Sheeba gives birth to cub, Basanti’s beau Ved is dad

Tata Steel Zoological Park, Jamshedpur, is replaying the world’s oldest love story — one man, two women — with many furry and spotted bundles of joy to show for it.

Six-year-old leopard Ved, who seems to be the zoo’s resident playboy, has two partners, and now, children from both in quick succession. Basanti (7) bore him three children — daughter Etu (4) and two cubs born this April, while nine-year-old Sheeba delivered a cub on Sunday, May 5, around 9.30pm.

Ved’s courting and mating alone is responsible for taking the zoo’s leopard count from four to eight — daughter Etu and three cubs too young for gender identification. Leopards (Panthera pardus) are near-threatened species according to International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list, popularly called IUCN’s Red Data List among biologists and conservationists.

“We maintained secrecy as Central Zoo Authority guidelines mandate not spreading the news of captive births immediately. We don’t want visitors to demand a glimpse of the cub and tease the animals,” vet Manik Palit, chief cupid in the Sheeba-Ved love affair, said.

Sheeba, brought to Jamshedpur from Jaldapara Animal Rescue Centre in Bengal in 2009, was the long-time girlfriend of leopard Mithun (8) in the Tata zoo, but couldn’t conceive.

Finally, zoo authorities, including vet Palit, decided to get Sheeba and Ved friendlier.

The switch was no easy matter, though Sheeba and Ved were kept in one common enclosure and also in adjacent cells. But Sheeba took over a year to get used to Ved and forget Mithun.

“Ah, our effort has paid off, finally. We are rejoicing over the birth of the cub,” Palit said, adding the gestation period of a leopard was around a 100 days.

Joy over the birth of the infant notwithstanding, Tata zoo authorities are worried about shielding leopard moms Basanti and Sheeba as well as their babies from the temperamental summer.

“Heat affects their mood swings. Sheeba very often does not allow her cub to suckle, which isn’t a good sign as infants need mother’s milk to survive and get strong. Earlier we showered Sheeba and Basanti at least five times a day with sprinklers. But now that they are suckling mothers, we don’t want the cubs to catch cold from wet fur or catch any infection. So, bathing is limited to one shower a day,” a caretaker said.

All four adults — Ved, Mithun, Sheeba and Basanti — are eating less. “Earlier, they got 3.5kg of beef six days a week, which has now been slashed to 2 or 2.5kg. Heat affects their appetite,” the caretaker said.

Basanti’s cubs, in a separate enclosure, are doing fine. “We are focusing on Basanti’s and Sheeba’s diet, including water, liquid ORS, milk and vitamin supplements,” Palit added.

Hopefully, once the cubs grow up, Basanti and Sheeba won’t start a catfight over Ved.

Are you eager to visit Sheeba’s newborn?

Tell ttkhand@abpmail.com


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