During the quiet morning of Sept. 2, at 2:24 a.m., a leopard was sighted coming down the ramp from the Centre for Imagination to the Main Gate.
“We heard a noise,” Mr. Purshotam Kharola, a security officer who was on duty during that time, said. “It came to the gate. Two of us guards were in the station. After it saw us, it ran back to the jungle area.”
Mr. Kharola, a school employee for the past 16 years, talked about how there was a “blind spot between the two lights” at the top of the ramp where the leopard came from. Hence, they could not anticipate the animal approaching the gate.
This is not the first time that a leopard has been spotted on campus or Mussoorie.
Mr. Dev Chand Singh, another security officer who has been working at Woodstock for 22 years, said that he saw a leopard when he was patrolling along the steps of Community Center sometime around 2001-2002.
“If it comes out at night, its eyes are very vivid and bright,” he said.
Asked about how guards are receptive to such events, he said, “Guards are always alert.”
Additionally, Mr. Dinesh Gupta, the school’s chief of security, talked about the implications of the leopard sighting. He drafted a letter to the forest department and related government institutions, like the Nagarpalika, detailing and accounting the event.
He, too, talked about how there have been around three leopard sightings through his five years at the school.
“It is the jungle. It is common sense. We are living in their area,” he said.
There was even one case last year when a “34-year-old man was attacked by a leopard on the busy Gandhi Chowk” in Library Bazaar, which is on the other side of town. The man fended off the leopard with his bare hands and managed to escape.
Later in the day of the most recent sighting, Dr. Jonathan Long, school principal, wrote an email to the staff about the incident.
“These are very shy creatures and most unlikely to appear when people are around. In fact, leopards can stay in close proximity to human beings without getting noticed for a long time,” he wrote.
After Dr. Long sent this email, Mr. Jeffery Doerfler, Dean of Student Life, forwarded the message to the rest of the school. He also added a link to CCTV footage of the leopard, complete with melodramatic music.
“Students need to know these things,” Mr. Doerfler said. He explained that sharing the video and Dr. Long’s email was an initiative to facilitate more transparency between the school’s authorities and students.
He also added that he was more worried about the day scholar students, who need to walk the same path that the leopard came from to get to their homes. Hence, he advised them to “walk in groups at night” to scare away any leopards, in the unlikely event that they appear.
Dr. Long echoed these thoughts in his email. He said, “If you have to move around isolated or very overgrown parts of the campus in the dark, ensure that you have a companion with you and carry a torch so that you will not be mistaken for another animal!”
Dr. Long also assured students and staff that leopards are not a significant safety threat.
He said, “Leopards are cautious and will avoid a confrontation with human beings. In any event, merely seeing a leopard is not dangerous.”
However, routine activities that occur outdoors in mornings, especially cross-country, may be in potential danger.
When asked about the news of the leopard, Hakyung Yi, Class of 2020 and cross-country runner, said, “My parents were extremely worried and recommended me not to run at least for a week. They were also worried about local people in Mussoorie as they don’t have as much protection as we do.”
On the other hand, some students felt that the event was sad.
Shyla Robinson, Class of 2020, said, “I found the video quite disheartening as leopards are known to be one of the most elusive cats, and yet, here we have one running around in the heart of a human settlement, most probably in a desperate search for food.”
Yi said that her mother said that this event revealed the true nature of the school’s setting: “She [said] that I am living in the ‘true’ wild.”
Photo is a screenshot of CCTV footage.
Abiral Lamasal and Chittish Pasbola contributed reporting.
Edited by Aarti Malhotra.