The abandoned hut that we were living in was at the base of the Central Hillock, around which most of the kill had taken place. It was not really a hillock, it was more of a low plateau (called dang in Rajasthan). These dangs rise abruptly from flat ground and have sandstone ridges running almost continuously along their edges. At places, small and short-lived streams have eroded deep, long and narrow gorges that are locally known as Khoh. Such a terrain is very typical of the Aravalis hill ranges. This dang was a fantastic place. There was one barely motorable track, with very few side tracks, running across its and the two ends of this track was the only way one could take a 4 wheel drive up the dang. There was a small and old temple of Lord Shiva (picture below), that attracted a few visitors every day and this temple was one of the few places that had water on top.
Our first task was to drive along the main track and all its sidetracks with a GPS. That gave us a great orientation to the whole place. The forest department had planted two “cage traps” on top of the dang near the beginning of two different khos. The “cage traps” are 8 feet by 3 feet (or so) cages made of steel bars (see the picture below). One of the two entry gates (at either end of the cage) would slide up and be help in place by a small trigger, so that the cage would be open. The base of the cage was a steel plate that was spring loaded so that if any medium weight animal went inside the cage the base plate would release the trigger holding the gate up and the gate would slide down, trapping the animal. A bait, usually a goat, would be tied inside the cage. These traps were heavy contraptions that took a lot of effort to set up.
The forest guards and officers told us that leopard used to walk right along the traps but would not enter even though they knew that there was a goat inside the trap. We soon saw pugmarks of a leopard, we believed it was a male, all around one of the traps. He had climbed up from the kho and walked right along the gate of the trap towards the temple. We took plaster casts of his pugmarks for record. All the forest officials in India believe that different individual leopards (and tigers) can be identified by their pugmarks. Sounds good but it does not work at all, unless the cat has an obvious deformity. Well this cat did have one. The pugmarks were large and we thought that it was a male. On the ground there were slight signs of the right rear foot being dragged. It was very minor but it was there. Later on the District Forest Officer and his assistant told us that even they had noticed this slight drag on two different occasions. We were convinced that this was a large and old male leopard, who had a slight injury in one of his foot and was limping a bit. We also came across at least two different set of pugmarks that were much smaller than the pugmarks of this limping male leopard. Some local people told us that two years ago they had often seen a female leopard with two nearly full-grown cubs. We were sure that there were at least three different leopards, if not four.
For the first few days we did come across pugmarks regularly but that was it. We kept ourselves very busy – exploring the local flora and whatever wildlife we came across (most of it was micro fauna).