University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term > 'Big Cats and the City: building evidence against out-of-place beasts in India'

'Big Cats and the City: building evidence against out-of-place beasts in India'

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This paper studies the presence of leopards in high population urban centres in India. It undertakes a comparative analysis of the sighting and habitation of leopards in three cities: Mumbai, Shimla, and Dehradun. It demonstrates how potentially dangerous and seemingly out-of-place animals elicit different responses by virtue of the places they inhabit. Through a focus on key individuals, the popular media, and animal rights activism, this paper highlights the distinct narratives on living with leopards that have to come to dominate in the three cities. In particular, it dwells on the sorts of evidence against big cats that is marshalled in these stories to account for their dissonant presence in the urban. Many incidences of conflict between leopards and humans have taken place in Dehradun and Mumbai whereas, thus far, there have been no such reported incidents in Shimla. In Mumbai there has been an active engagement between the forest department and various individuals who came together to devise means of peaceful co-existence. In Shimla, there has been either a studious ignoring of the leopards or feeble efforts to trap and relocate leopards. In Dehradun, the only response to the presence of leopards has been to immediately hunt them down. What accounts for these distinct approaches to the very same phenomenon: the living-with big cats in urban India? What insights into the specificities of space and place may we unearth from this comparative ethnography? What are the processes through which hegemonic narrations emerge and how is evidence built up against the (ultimately-unknowable) nonhuman?

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Lunchtime Seminar Series - Wednesdays of Full Term series.

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