Shimla, March 1 (IANS) Leopard attacks on humans are on the rise in several districts of Himachal Pradesh due to the depleting forest cover and shortage of prey in the wild which force the animals to stray from the jungles.
‘In the past few years, attacks by leopards on humans have increased. Thirteen people, mostly women and children, have been killed by leopards in the last five years,’ Chief Conservator (Faunal Diversity and Protected Areas) Sanjeeva Pandey told IANS.
Pandey attributed the straying of leopards into human habitations to the declining prey-predator ratio and human interference.
‘The predator is not only blamed for the man-animal conflict. It’s the human who is intruding into the territory of the wild animals. Human interference is responsible not only for declining prey in the wild but also for degrading of their habitat. People are encroaching upon forest land in order to extend their habitation,’ he said.
Though the leopard is protected under Schedule 1 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, it is occasionally poached for its pelt. Sometimes, it is also killed to protect crops and livestock.
According to the state wildlife wing, there was an all-time high of 186 cases of leopard attacks on humans in 2008-09. However, such attacks were 34 in 2007-08, 38 in 2006-07 and 17 in 2005-06.
Divisional Forest Officer (wildlife) D.S. Verma said the leopard menace is more acute in Bilaspur, Hamirpur, Mandi and Kangra districts and parts of Kullu, Shimla, Sirmaur and Solan districts.
Neena Devi of Bhoraj village in Hamirpur district said: ‘The leopard menace has now become too common in our village as their number has grown substantially. People have stopped venturing out in the dusk. We don’t send children alone to the school. Last week, a leopard took away a goat from our house.’
Another villager Dheeraj Sharma said: ‘Earlier, the instances of wild animals straying into the village were more common during the winters. But now, with the rise in their numbers, leopards can be spotted in the village almost every night.’
According to wildlife experts, the leopard is an intelligent predator. It knows that there is easy and enough food in the villages. In most of the leopard-infested villages, the population of stray dogs is almost wiped out.
Sandeep Rattan, a veterinary surgeon with the wildlife wing, said: ‘Most of the time, the villagers attack the wild animals or lay snares in retaliation. This brings more trouble for them as the injured leopard easily turns into a man-eater and then it is most difficult to eliminate it.’
‘Moreover, like other big cats, the leopard too is a territorial animal. It establishes its territory. Once the animal is killed, other leopards would occupy that space. So, killing is not the solution. The solution is to live and let them live,’ he said.
In the last five years, over 50 leopards were killed by villagers using traps and snares.
‘Shrinking habitat is mainly responsible for the man-animal conflict. The state has sent a proposal to the central government to increase the protected area of wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and conservation reserves from 7,160 sq km to 8,409 sq km. This will somehow manage to reduce the conflict,’ Pandey said.
According to the last census conducted by the wildlife wing in 2004, there were 761 leopards in the state.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)