Picture of a leopard who befriended a cow in defiance of usual instincts

In defiance of natural instincts, this female leopard crept through a sugarcane on an October night to find a cow tied up in a field. It's the way the villagers kept their livestock in this community on the banks of India's Dhadhar River at a village called Antoli. The cat did not harm the cow. The villagers were worried and asked the Forest Department to remove the leopard to a sanctuary nearby. 

The trappers turned up on what they saw shocked them. After several attempts to capture the leopard she returned to the area nightly. Sometimes many times during a single night. But she did not return as a predator but to her cow that it seems she regarded as her mother. She came for a cuddle.

Female leopard befriends a cow for months
Female leopard befriends a cow for months. Image: Believed now to be in the public domain.

She approached the cow cautiously and rubbed her head against the cow's head and then settled down against her body. In response, the cow would lick her leopard friend. She started at her head and neck and then the legs and any other area of the body that she could get to. The leopard clearly enjoyed the experience.

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If the cow was asleep when the leopard arrived she would gently be woken up with a nuzzle to the leg. The leopard then lay down by her side. The leopard ignored cattle standing nearby. This happened for two months and the leopard showed up at around eight in the evening and stayed with the cow until the first signs of sunrise.

The villagers heard about this and were no longer worried about the need to capture the leopard. The benefit was that the leopard was preying on pigs, jackals and monkeys which meant that their crops improved. The cat stuck around for several weeks. On the last night when she was seen with the cow she came nine times before disappearing forever.

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It is suggested that this female leopard had just become independent and was looking for a home range but being a young adult sought companionship and a mother. Perhaps her mother had been killed and she was not yet independent and therefore needed mothering until she felt able to be independent to find her own home range. When she reached adulthood and confidence she moved on. Nonetheless, the relationship was striking and counter to all the natural instincts and stories that we see and read about.

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