Living in fear of the wild

Deforestation makes animals homeless

Living in fear of the wild

A case of a leopard which intruded into a human habitation and captured by forest officals. File photo

These days Bilal, a 16 year old boy, returns home much earlier in the evening than before because he fears the presence of wild animals which intrude into his village at Batakot in South Kashmir in the evenings.

Like Bilal his other family members and neighbours too return home as early as possible. With the onset of winter and snowfall in the upper reaches, wild animals tend to move towards human habitations in search of food. This leads to conflict between man and animal.

According to official figures, more than 50 persons and 500 wild animals have been killed in such conflict over the last several years. Despite the state government’s efforts to reduce this conflict and save the lives of both humans and animals there is hardly any reduction in such incidents. Only as late as October a minor girl was killed by a leopard in north Kashmir. Though villagers chased the animal, it managed to escape. Last year dozens of wild animals were stoned to death because some of them had attacked people.

Interestingly there was a report last month about two militants getting killed in their hide out at Damhal—Hanjipora in South Kashmir by a wild animal. According to security authorities, the militants attempted to kill a bear but it managed to turn the tables on them instead.  However, a militant group later claimed in a statement to the media that their associates were not killed by the wild animal but by security forces in an encounter.

Increased animal population

According to forest minister Mian Altaf Ahmad there was a 20 to 60 percent increase in the wildlife population of Kashmir lately. In 1990 the population of Himalayan Black Bear that was pegged at 700-800 has now increased to between 2500--3000. Similarly he said  “Today the number of musk deer, a rare animal, has shot up to between 2,000-2,500 from 250-300 in 1990”.

Also the number of rare Pirpanjal Markhor Goats, specific to the Pirpanjal Mountain range, from 100-150 animals in 1990 is now  estimated at around 240-300 animals. Similarly, the Hangul population which was around 100-120 in 1990 today is estimated to be over 250 animals. Interestingly Jammu and Kashmir is home to 75 mammal species and carnivores represent 32 percent of the total mammalian fauna in the state. According to wild life experts, birds form the largest group followed by mammals, reptiles, fish and amphibians. The avian diversity of the state varies seasonally and the official data suggests the existence of 3,858 species of birds. The state is also home to 14 species of amphibians and 68 species of reptiles.

The increase in wild life is the outcome of some tough measures by the state government particularly the ban on hunting. Abdul Gani , a villager said , “I think the authorities did well by strictly enforcing the ban  on hunting. This helped increase in the population of wild life”.  He added that now the authorities will have to take steps to avoid the man-animal conflict. This is leading to the loss of not only the human lives but wild life also.

Abdul Karim, an official of wild life protection department said his department is ill-equipped to deal with the conflict. “We lack man power and most of the time we reach the spot after the wild animal is killed by angry people. Hardly any villager informs us about the presence of the wild animals in their areas,” Karim said.
According to him, even if they are informed they do not have the equipment to trap the animal and take it back to the forests. “To avoid this man -animal conflict, our department needs to be strengthened,” he said.

As per the law, killing of wild animals is prohibited. There were instances when a wild animal struck terror in an area, the police had to first seek the permission of the jurisdictional district magistrate to shoot the animal dead. At some places, the people also sought the help of security forces to protect themselves from wild animals.
A dominant view is that besides the increase in wild life population, the massive deforestation is another reason for the man-animal conflict. “Due to the massive felling of trees in the forests over the last 20 years the wild animals living there were disturbed and gradually started moving towards  human habitations and attacked people,” said Abdul Razak of Kuthoss village in Anantnag district.

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