July 1979 The Sherwoodian Times 12th Issue

Flora and Fauna Around Sherwood

This is the second in a series of articles written by Mr. G. Pant who has captured nostalgically those halcyon days when man, the marauder, was a rare specimen.

It was the fourth week of February in 1954. I had just returned to my one-room quarter, just opposite the Geography room. The night chowkidar, who used to sleep in the staff room had finished his nightly rounds. At about 4.30 a.m. the chowkidar urgently scratched on the wire mesh of my window. I got up with a start and heard a panther call close by. If was pitch dark but to my relief I saw a flicker of the chowkidar's lantern. He called out from outside, 'Sahib, Sahib, Sher agaya !' I opened my bathroom door and let him in. He was trembling with fright and cold. I told him to lower the wick of the lantern. Quickly I put on my overcoat and stepped out with him on to the verandah and stood near the bell. To my surprise I heard the leopard call from two different directions-one below the swimming-pool, which wasn't built by then, and the other above the staff quarters, across the field. There were two leopards ! At each call they were coming towards each other, Pulling on my woolen socks and hunter boots and putting the dour rounds in my overcoat pocket, I told the chowkidar to follow me. Reaching the cement-ledge below the Infirmary, I told him to stand there till I reached the field and stood motionless on the steps. Now the two callings were quite distinct - one to my right and the other on my left. If you haven't heard a panther calling, it is somewhat like tow people sawing the big trunk of a tree with a big saw-0000000NH-H000000N, 0000000NH- (this is the best sound I can produce in writing). If one stopped calling, the other started. I loaded the gun quietly. In the right barrel I pushed a lethal ball and in the left, Remington Super X press 2" and I had two 2 and I had two 2" Alphamax L.GS in the pocket of my overcoat. I couldn't shoulder the gun with ease, so I took off my heavy overcoat and put it on the steps of the scoreboard. Before advancing any further on to the tennis court, I looked back. The faithful chowkidar was standing where I had left him. Very slowly, pausing after each step, I descended. I am sure panther on my left must have spotted my movements because it stopped calling, but one on my right, by this time, had reached the 'nallan' below the staff quarters. It kept on calling and approaching its mate. After at least two minutes, I noticed a black figure crossing the tennis-court. I didn't cock the gun, but slowly shouldered it, After giving one more call, it stepped down on to the lower court. Now I was in fix. I couldn't make up my mind whether to cross the tennis-court or stay 'put'. As it started calling again, I crept towards the corner of the tennis-court. To my bad luck, I had left the two extra cartridges in my overcoat pocket. I was also not sure of the panther on my left, but an inkling that it was outside the lower court. In a crawling position, I reached the staff quarter-end of the tennis court and saw the magnificent beast stalking up and down the whole length of the bottom court. I tried to put the barrel of the gun through a hole in the wire netting. It made a metallic noise. He stopped walking. I held my breath and heard my heart pounding. I crouched as low as possible, but my eyes were glued on him. He also sat down majestically, looking upwards at the tennis court, giving a beautiful head or neck or chest shot. Unfortunately, the barrel of my gun was facing upward as I had crouched low. I can't say whether it was my good luck or bad, but the chowkidar, who had approached the steps of the score board, inadvertently cautioned the animal by the flicker of his lantern. Both the animals gave a snarling roar and vanished into thin air. Anyway, I returned to my room like a fool, absolutely frozen. It was a very close shave for both of us-the panther and me. Either I would shot him dead or he or its mate would have me!

A couple of days later, a panther (probably one of the two I spotted) spent a whole night in the Norfolk Cottage verandah and the next night under the lamp-post near the main gate. 'Bishti' didn't exist then and the jungle beyond the school gate was so dense that one couldn't see the Birla hill opposite nor was the school visible from Norfolk Cottage. As the school was about to re-open after the Winter vacation Rev. Llewelyn, the Principal, was very worried about the panthers prowling in our area. He wrote to the District Magistrate and the Divisional Forest Officer about the whole affair. My father and I were given permission from the D.F.O. to school the animal and the D.M. sent some police jawans. I showed the area of the panthers' prowling to both the parties one morning and the same evening we too up our positions. The police jawans took up their position on top of the pine forest behind the staff quarters and my father and I below the 'Salt Pillar'- above the 'Raja of Oval Kothi'- this was because I received a report from the 'mali' of that place one day in advance that the brute had killed a dog in the vicinity the night before. We were sitting with our 355 Mausar and 'douby', quite comfortably, when were alerted by some rustling noise in the bushes about 30 yards away. Out came a big black 'kalij' pheasant followed by a whole covey of 12-14 pheasants. When they spotted us, they flew off, but five or six perched on the branches close by and kept on calling. I am this must have warned the panther for though we sat till 5.30 p.m. we had no luck. When we were returning via Dorothy's seat, we heard 2 rifle shots in quick succession. The next morning at 7, to my astonishment, a magnificent specimen of a panther was tied with ropes, lying on a 'charpoi', in the Principal's garden, with three proud policemen standing guard with their rifles as if the beast would spring on them any moment. Rev. Llewelyn who was looking very pleased and relieved, thanked them immensely and gave them 'bakshish'. I tried to persuade them to sell me the animal for Rs. 100/- as wanted the skin, but they refused. The 'Sherwoodian' of 1962 recounts the story of how M/s Johnson and Luther shot a leopard by torchlight, just below Bishti's shop. At the time, the area between the marathon course finishing point to Sherwood Gate was dense with oak, holly and rhododendron trees and the bushy under-growth was impenetrable. Here coveys of pheasants, 'Kakars', hares, porcupines and jackals roamed freely, but now there is no sign of them.

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