Injuries, deaths by leopards accidental

Injuries, deaths by leopards accidental

Leopard is a member of the Felidae family and is smallest of the four big cats, the other three being tiger, lion and jaguar. Eight out of nine subspecies of leopard, except the African leopard, are found in India. Leopards can run with a speed of over 36 miles per hour, leap over 20 feet and jump up to 10 ft.

Leopards are active during night and take rest in thick bushes and on trees during the day. They feed on deer, sambhar, wild boar in the forests and street dogs, cats, chicken, domestic cattle etc in villages and towns. There are nearly 14,000 leopards in India as per latest census figures published by Wildlife Institute of India.

The appearance of a leopard in a school near Marathahalli (East Bengaluru) last Sunday triggered rumour-mongering and created panic in villages of Thubarahalli, Nallurhalli, Varthur and other areas near Whitefield. During my tenure as chief wildlife warden of
Karnataka, several operations were conducted to capture/ rescue leopards from many towns and villages across the state. After examining the condition, many of these were released in the wild.

Research has shown that the released leopards have come back to the areas they were captured from. In the circumstances, the successful operation conducted by Forest Department last Sunday and decision of the chief wildlife warden to send it to the  Bannerghatta Rescue Centre is perfectly justified.

Once in 2009, a female leopard littered in a tree grove close to the intersection of Nice Road and Bannerghatta road and nearly 500 m from human habitation in Bengaluru. Forest department guarded the place for nearly a month, till the mother and the three cubs were shifted from there.

Often, female leopards litter in sugarcane fields. Young cubs are sometimes left all by themselves when the mother goes for hunting. Villagers deposit these cubs in the nearest forest office, in good faith. It becomes very difficult for the department to reunite these cubs with the mother. The forest department should run a campaign with the villagers so that they do not disturb the cubs.

Unlike tigers, who prefer inviolate forest areas free from human and cattle population, leopards do move in and around villages and townships in search of street dogs, cats, monkeys, chicken, domestic cattle etc. The role of the civic bodies in this context is important. If the places are kept free from garbage, food articles etc which attract street dogs and cats, the movement of leopards during night can be minimised.

Distance from humans

In wildlife-related conflict, nearly 40 human deaths have taken place annually in Karnataka, not to speak of other states. Out of these, leopards are responsible for one or two deaths every alternate years. Barring one incident in 2011-12 when a leopard lift-ed a child sleeping in a new house without doors and windows in Arkalgud (Hassan district), all the other deaths were accidental.
Leopards do move in human areas during the night. Whenever they see humans, they hide in some place and appear only after humans have disappeared. Leopards are never known to chase human beings in any way. All injuries and deaths caused by leopards are accidental. Taking a cue from last Sunday’s operation, it was found that all escape routes
for the animal were blocked by the mob. Camera persons and videographers aggravated the animal further.

In such situations, department veterinarians must get free space for clear line of sight for darting. What was the need of NGOs taking forward position in these operations? In rural areas, where there are sugarcane plantations, vegetation grooves etc, leopards stay during the day. They move out in the night in search of prey. Research has shown that humans and leopards occupy the same area. Human beings move in the area during the day and leopards move during night.

While moving in the night, human beings must take proper precaution. They must move in groups with bright torch etc. The forest department should run more education and awareness programmes in this regard. However, the department should regularly upgrade their equipment like tranquilising guns, drugs, training to staff, protective gears etc.

It is good to find Bengaluru Urban Deputy Conservator of Forests Dipika Bajpai educating people through her Twitter account. The scope of education and awareness programme should be enlarged so that people in smaller towns and villages are well informed.

(The writer is retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka)

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