The Leopard

Suraj Gurung

The GI wire mesh enclosure is a far cry
From his craggy mountain lair.
He’s bored, but looks at me squarely in the eye,
And for a while, I manage to hold his stare.

My eyes are riveted on the inscrutable face,
And I wonder what might he be thinking –
While he sprawls there with a lazy feline grace
And the regal, indomitable poise of a king.

For a wild animal that’s inside a cage,
The leopard seems almost to be reclining –
But I’m the first to pull away my gaze;
He just stares back at me without blinking.

What expanse of icy wilderness
He must’ve stalked and prowled around !
To satiate his hunger in cold, desolate places
What big game he must’ve brought down?

In his prime, with no hunting skills left to hone,
The leopard looks good for many more years.
But what is supple muscle and hardy bone
When an animal has to live out its worst fears !

Does he even know he’ll grow old and die,
Far away from home in a strange land?
Or the far-off snowy peaks does he still espy,
And harbour thoughts of escape from man?

If only he would bristle his furry coat,
Tense his lithe frame, and leap off the ground –
Make a bid for freedom across the watery moat
And over the fence with one enormous bound.

But in my heart of hearts this I do know –
The leopard will never go back a free beast,
For he’s the main draw and will remain so,
Here in this zoo – till he ceases to exist.

He’ll live out his life here, ’tis but a pity –
Shorn of all his wildness – a prisoner of man.
For it’s our second nature and will always be
To enslave and destroy others as only we can.

Will all this bring his kind back from the brink?
And can mankind even hope to save him,
When such splendid life forms wither and shrink –
Confined so, to humour our fancy and whim?

Note: The leopard epitomizes the ‘wild’ like no other in the big cat family. And the elusive snow leopard, listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, is among the wildest inhabitants of the Himalayas. This poem, although titled ‘The Leopard’, is dedicated to all those wild animals that are no longer wild and free.