Eucalyptus planting, quarrying, fruit auctions and more...

Eucalyptus planting, quarrying, fruit auctions and more...

Eucalyptus planting, quarrying, fruit auctions and more...

A straying leopard was beaten to death by villagers in Hassan district on May 18, 2011. Around the same time, another stray was killed on the Bangalore-Mysore expressway.

Just two weeks ago, a speeding vehicle knocked down yet another big cat near Kunigal, on the outskirts of Bangalore.

It is not just leopards, but also elephants, sloth bear and black bucks are straying into human habitat in different regions of Karnataka, for reasons as varied as the species.

Leopards, considered primary species (in places where larger carnivores are not documented) and secondary species (where tigers and dholes are recorded) by the experts, are territorial in nature as they dwell on the outskirts of human habitats (preying on cattle and dogs). While experts are pondering over the increasing deaths of these feline, due to human-animal conflict, statistics with the State Forest Department show that between May and September 2011, as many as 16 leopards died and the worrying fact is that ten of them were females. Several questions are being raised on the death of these spotted cats such as why are they dying in more numbers in the recent days, is there a solution at hand, etc. Wildlife experts mostly cite loss of habitat and change in cropping pattern as primary reasons for the deaths of wildlife, including leopards.

Dr Vidya Athreya, a wildlife biologist in Pune who is working on man-leopard conflict across the country, says leopards being shy creatures, tend to avoid human beings though they are active near human habitats. Believed to have attacked human beings (especially children), in extremely rare cases, the animal has become a victim of bad management by the forest department.

“What we have observed in Maharashtra is that the Forest Department, under pressure, traps the animals and releases them in a nearby forest. This only worsens the problem because of the leopard’s biology. They are highly territorial animals and adults will not leave their homes. If such an animal is trapped and settled even 400 km away, it tries to go back home,” she said.

Pointing out that there needs to be a study on leopard attacks and handling in the State of Karnataka, she said, “In most of the incidents, especially in and around Mysore, the animal is captured and released into the wilderness, from where they try to return. If you observe, the conflict area is either close to the forest where the animal is released or where it is captured, “said Vidya.

The capture and release of leopard should be avoided and the department should follow the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to prevent conflict which usually results in death of animal.

Moreove, conflict is not just restricted to leopards as it has become specific to region and the availability of animal species in that region. If places like Kodagu, Bannerghatta, Hassan, Kollegal and Bandipur are witnessing man-elephant conflict, leopard-human conflict is spread across the state. The sloth bear-human conflict is visible in places like Bellary (in and around Daroji), Gudikote (in Kudligi taluk in Bellary), Hiriyur, Chitradurga, Kadur, Madhugiri and Sira due to different reasons.

According to a study by K S Abdul Samad, Wildlife expert and a lecturer in Hospet, in places like Hiriyur and Hosadurga in Chitradurga district and at Kadur in Chikmagalur district, where the bear population is in good number, the conflict is due to fragmentation of habitat. Habitat of bears have been converted into either stone quarries or agriculture fields here, while bears in Gudikote, which will soon be a second bear sanctuary in the State, face a food crunch as custard apple, jujube (bore hannu in Kannada) and some other fruits, besides honey is auctioned every year by the department, which is leading to increasing conflict. “Nearly 20 truckloads of custard apple leave the area reserved for sloth bear conservation,” said Samad.

Region-specific conflict

Straying black bucks are also a matter of concern as these grassland animals which have been displaced due to loss of their habitat are victims of poaching in places like Siruguppa, Gulbarga, Madhugiri, Sira, Ranebennur, Haveri and other places. According to Ameen Ahmed, member, Wildlife Awareness and Nature Club, who worked on black buck conservation in Maidenhalli near Tumkur, reveals that many black bucks are being poached, they go unreported. With grasslands making way for development, these antelopes are fast going the dinosaur way. “They are found feasting on agricultural crops, “ he said. The forest department’s greening programme (by cultivating eucalyptus) could well be the final nail in the coffin for these animals.