The Human Heart

First published in: Sanctuary Asia, April 2020

by Bittu Sahgal

It boggles the mind that this diminutive leopard cat Prionailurus bengalensis, photographed by Shiv Kumar, a forest guard with the Himachal Forest Department in Lahaul District, shares a common ancestor with the lion, tiger, leopard and the snow leopard of the mighty Himalaya.

With technology as a conservation tool, this protector of our biosphere uses camera traps (Sanctuary Vol. 39 No. 12, December 2019) to document the hidden biodiversity of the forests around Udaipur village, which are under his charge.

Recognising his service to the planet, the Sanctuary Nature Foundation selected Shiv, who has quietly been protecting his lower Himalayan slice of paradise for 14 years, as one of its Mud on Boots Project Leaders (Sanctuary Vol. 39 No. 4, April 2019).

Camera traps were used to document the biodiversity of Lahaul, including Shiv’s native village of Udaipur. This leopard cat image, he said, was the first-ever proof of the existence of the rare and secretive feline in the area. Undoubtedly, it is on the shoulders of such lifeloving, determined individuals that virtually all the world’s conservation organisations stand.

Self-motivated, he works for human-wildlife co-existence through conflict-mitigation between villagers, snow leopards, brown bears and wolves in Spiti. While executing his regular patrolling duties, he also works to document the biodiversity of Lahaul. This not only helps protect Himachal’s wild wonders, but encourages the children Shiv spends time with in village schools to fall in love with their wildernesses.

This leopard cat and its protector exemplify the mission of the Sanctuary Nature Foundation. Life, livelihoods and love are central to our search for solutions to free the biosphere from humankind’s self-tied noose.

And, as those working to give butterflies, orchids, tigers, elephants, sharks, wolves, ants – and leopard cats – an edge on life freely confirm, the long march towards the resurrection of the wild starts in the human heart.

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