Nothing touches us quite like a good story. Get ready for a roller coaster ride of heartbreak and hope then; brought to us by 13-year old Aisha Jamal from Chennai, India
Shadows – a story by Aisha Jamal
I heard pitiful whines from behind the rock. Creeping up, I peeked over. Two snow leopard cubs were curled up together, mewling softly. Gazing at them I remembered……`
I was born on a cold, misty April morning. My mother, my siblings and I lived in a large cave. We played or slept, but on no account did we leave the cave. My mother had warned us about the dangers of the Outside.
At five months, we emerged from the cave for the first time and saw snow; a wonderful, feathery, powder covering the ground and wetting our paws when we stepped on it. Mother caught a pika and let us sniff and bat it around before eating. “When you are hunting,” she said, “make sure you’re approaching downwind. Creep up quietly,” she demonstrated, “Then jump quickly. Land on it and bite down on its neck.”
She smiled at our puzzled faces and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you.”
She never did.
A few weeks later, while I was sleeping, my mother and siblings disappeared, with only the scent of Humans, fear, pain and death left behind. I searched blindly for them, behind rocks, in crevices, even in the snow where their smell was strongest. But I searched in vain; the only sign were a few clumps of fur and still wet spots of blood.
Dragging myself back to the cave, defeated and exhausted, I waited two days for them, growing weaker from hunger, before accepting the hard truth. Hunger taught me to hunt. After a thousand attempts, I caught a fat marmot. Hunger taught me to hunt. After a thousand foiled attempts, I caught a marmot. It was busy stuffing its mouth when I crept up behind it, a few more steps, a quick leap, and I was on it. Though the marmot was plump, my ravenous hunger was more than a match for it. In a few minutes all that was left was a pile of cracked bones, blood, a little fur and one full snow leopard cub.
Time passed – years of hunting, running, and stalking.
In my sixth winter I met another snow leopard, a handsome, adventurous male. We had a pair of cubs and I took care of them in my mother’s den; where she had her first and last litter. A few days after the cubs were born, my mate left as is the custom. He had stayed far too long already.
I cared well for my cubs: fed them; kept them warm; taught them; and when they grew I brought them well-softened meat. I doted on them, far more, perhaps, than I would have if my siblings had survived. We went exploring everyday. I took them on territory patrols, hunting expeditions, night-time walks, and taught them running, jumping and stalking.
One day, I chanced upon a herd of goats and captured one. Shouts mingled with rocks followed me. Humans! Narrowly escaping, I made my way to the den, where we had a good feast.
But the Humans had not given up and they hit back with unimaginable cruelty.
I had had a good hunt that day, the bharal hadn’t noticed me until it was too late. Trotting home happily I thought how my cubs would bound out of the cave, nuzzling me with pleasure, how we would sit down together for a feast, and retire purring to our den afterwards. Nearing the cave, I called out to my cubs, but they didn’t answer. Then I smelled it: the dreaded scent of Humans, combined with my cubs’ fear and terror.
I raced into the den. It was desolate, abandoned, empty. I stared wildly around, the nightmare of my cubhood wasn’t happening again? I called to my cubs. No answer. Slowly, methodically I started searching. Every rock, every crevice, gaps in the snow, everywhere possible I searched, with each step, each sniff, my hope died a little.
The scent trail led to the Humans’ colony. Suppressing my hatred and fear, I followed the trail as far as I could, but the hundreds of Humans’ scents covered up my cubs’ trail as effectively as snow covers the ground. I kept searching, until I had to flee from a Human.
How I survived the next few days I do not know. At times my spirits were so low that there seemed no point in existence. I had lost everything. Humans had taken my only litter of cubs and I hadn’t stopped them. However my optimistic side reasoned with me: I had survived as a cub; I had become self-sufficient; there would be more litters.
But it took me a long time to get over my misery. Often, while hunting, I would turn to warn my cubs, before realising they were no longer there, sometimes I would see a faint shadow in the distance, trotting towards me, but it was a mere dream. I never had more cubs; there weren’t any snow leopards in my territory anymore, though I searched.
Now, for the first time in uncountable years, I was seeing cubs. Where was their mother? Gone like mine? Were the cubs hungry? Did they need me to care for them? I felt a new feeling well up in me: Hope.
By Aisha Jamal, 13, Grade VIII, Al Qamar Academy, Chennai, India.
Aisha is a 13-year old cat lover from Chennai, India. “Snow Leopards caught my attention especially; their lives in the mountains,their beauty, their plight,their amazing abilities”, she says. “They live in an extremely dangerous and harsh habitat, yet they are perfectly built to cope with all their trials -except humans.”
Aisha’s mom, Aneesa, had first contacted us through our Facebook page to share this wonderful story. We immediately knew it deserved as large an audience as possible – and if you agree, please share Aisha’s story and help raise awareness for all the snow leopard cubs left in the wild.
a wild snow leopard cub in Spiti, India