(Reuben David captured bare-handed panthers, which had strayed into Ahmedabad and Vadnagar – in Gujarat)
That father had a mystical relationship with panthers became evident when a wild panther strayed into Ahmedabad.
He was spotted in the garden of a school in the Maninagar area.
Father drove down to the school and saw the panther running wild in the street. The panther had mauled a man. He had chased a cyclist and gone for his neck, but the shouts of the crowd had made him nervous. Trying to find a safe place he had jumped into the courtyard of a house.
This was Ilaben Patel’s house. She was unaware of the happenings around her and was washing clothes in the courtyard with a wooden bat.
As news spread that a panther was running wild in the streets of Maninagar, huge crowds started collecting. Father was furious with the people who did not understand that an injured and frightened panther would attack anybody.
Father had informed both the police and fire brigade and a huge truck with a cage was stationed near the school.
Ilaben heard something fall into the courtyard and looking up saw the panther. Her first instinct was to throw the bat at the creature and pick up her child playing nearby.
To her amazement the bat frightened the animal and although it growled fiercely, it left the courtyard and entered the puja room next to the water tap. Ilaben rushed to close the door of the room. All she wanted to do was save her child from this beast.
Ilaben heard someone knocking frantically at the door. When she opened the door, she saw father. She recognised him and invited him into the house. Father was impressed with her composure. The crowds outside were running wild and needed the police to control them.
Ilaben gave a detailed description of the architecture of the house to father and he prepared a plan of action for – Operation Panther.
The problem was how to capture a wild panther from a closed room, when there were thousands of people standing outside the house?
It was the challenge of a lifetime.
Father was charged with excitement and full of energy. His eyes were glinting and he was not afraid. He decided to catch the panther alive. Father gave strict instructions to the police not to shoot, unless he told them to. They waited in readiness, their rifles aimed at the house.
The atmosphere was tense.
Father could hear the panther inside the room, dashing against the walls. Climbing up a ladder from the fire brigade, Babu saw that the panther had hurt itself and was tired. It seemed that there was no way of capturing him except the front door, and that could prove fatal either to the panther or to human life.
Till late afternoon there was no solution.
Then father asked Babu to bring a trap cage from the zoo with a bait of pieces of meat filled with sedatives and keep it next to the door of Ilaben’s house. With bamboo poles, Babu kept the panther in a corner as carpenters broke the lower part of the door. When the plank of wood was removed, the trap cage was quickly placed there.
Then Operation Panther came into action.
From the ventilator, with bamboo poles, Babu drove the panther towards the cage. At first, the panther attacked the ventilator, but when he could not get a foothold he fell. Then, slowly, methodically, Babu drove him into the cage and the trap door slid down upon the angry and tired animal.
Father received a hero’s welcome from the crowd.
The trap cage with the panther was quickly transported to the zoo.
The panther was named Chitta. Although he was ferocious, he slowly calmed down. A year later, Bijli, the Vadnagar panther joined him. Father had captured Bijli in a similar way from a mosque in Vadnagar. The difference was that she was captured at midnight with halogen lamps installed by the fire brigade.
Late one evening, when Ahmed Husain Allabux Fakir, went into the mosque to say his prayers, he thought he saw a winged creature in a corner. He folded his hands, thanked Allah for sending a divine messenger, said his prayers, bowed in the direction of the divine creature and left, carefully closing the grill door to the mosque.
Then, washed his clothes in the courtyard of the mosque. As he was hanging them up to dry, he thought somebody was calling out to him, so he went back to see the angel…
He ran back shouting for help. Instead of an angel, there was a panther growling at him. Ahmed thanked Allah that he had closed the grill door. With help, he sealed the door with a tin sheet. The police was informed, who in turn, asked father to help.
When father reached Vadnagar, the street leading to the mosque was crowded with people, cheering him. They were sure that father would capture the panther alive.
It was late at night and father wondered how he would capture the panther, locked in the mosque. He would have to be transferred into a cage, without harming a single human life.
First, father asked the collector of the area, to arrange for floodlights. He then found out about the architecture of the mosque from Ahmed and others. There was a small window on the first floor of the mosque. It was from here that Babu and others drove the panther toward the main door where a trap cage was kept. And so father caught the Vadnagar Panther.
It always surprised me that father could capture wild animals without tranquilliser guns – he behaved as though it was child’s play.
Later, when Jamsaheb Shatrushalyasinhji – the ex-ruler of Jamnagar – a friend of father’s – gifted him a tranquilliser gun he used it on an angry elephant, which had escaped from a circus. Father studied the dosage, and sometimes used it to capture ferocious langurs or animals which had strayed into the city.