Man-animal conflict on the rise

A leopard that strayed into a school in Bengaluru underscores the enormity and proximity of the threat posed by man-animal conflicts. The leopard mauled around six people and while it was eventually captured and sent away to be housed in the Bannerghatta National Park in the city, the incident is a wake-up call. An increasing number of wild animals, especially the big cats, are entering our cities and towns. A leopard or a tiger entering India’s urban areas is nothing new. Over the past two years, leopards have repeatedly visited Bengaluru and its suburbs. In February 2014, a leopard kept the terrified residents of Meerut indoors as it hid in a hospital and a cinema theatre and rampaged through the town over a period of several weeks. Instances of wild animals prowling our streets and schools are growing in frequency as our cities expand into elephant migratory paths, and leopard and tiger habitats. Deforestation is shrinking the home and hunting grounds of the wild cats, forcing them to enter human habitations in search of prey. Additionally, houses and hotels that are set up in and around forests increase the likelihood of man-animal face-offs.

The incident at the Bengaluru school underscores the perils of not addressing the issues underlying man-animal conflicts and the need to put in place without further delay more efficient processes and procedures to deal with confrontations when they happen. Forest officials and conservationists did a splendid job in capturing the animal alive. They put their lives at risk to ensure the safety of people in and around the school. It took them over 10 hours to overpower the animal. This could have been achieved in fewer hours had a large number of people not converged at the school to watch ‘the fun’. The latter’s irresponsible conduct not only hampered operations but also made the leopard more anxious and aggressive. The police could have supported the operations by ensuring better crowd control. As the threat of more man-animal face-offs looms, forest department and police officials need to streamline their response procedures. Standard operating procedures must be followed and forest officials must be provided with protective gear.

Since the leopard’s capture, there have been reports of ‘sightings’ or more leopards. It is unfortunate that at the time of crisis, mischief makers are spreading rumours and causing panic. These put an already understaffed forest department under needless pressure. Repeated false alarms could make the officials less alert and responsive when a real threat emerges. The police must take stern action against the rumour mongers.
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