In the early morning of 08 May 2017, I got a call from a friend that a “black cheetah” had fallen into the well of a house in the nearby village of Hirgana, Karnataka. It took no time for me to realise that it was a melanistic leopard and not a cheetah. I rushed to the spot and saw that the Forest Department had already begun the rescue operation. The well was properly covered by a net, and a ladder was placed inside the well so that the leopard could climb up into a cage.

Leopards are known to stay near human habitats, as it easily provides them livestock and pets as food. This melanistic leopard had trespassed into the house’s compound and hunted the pet dog, and as it was about to cross the compound wall, it had fallen into the well along with its prey. In the morning, hearing loud roars, the house owner found the leopard inside the well, and informed the Forest Department.

Uncovered wells pose a grave danger to wildlife. Every year, hundreds of wild animals die from falling into these uncovered wells. The local Forest Department did an excellent and commendable job here; they ensured that both the leopard and the local people were not in danger. The professional work of the FD and the tolerance of the helpful locals was crucial in sending this black beauty back to the wilderness. After its rescue and a thorough medical examination, the melanistic leopard was released into the nearby Kudremukha Wildlife National Park.

This image won Kartik Bhat a ‘Special Mention’ in the ‘Conservation Photography’ category, at Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017.