LEOP­ARDS IN CRI­SIS

A grow­ing con­cern about the loss of habi­tat and prey of the spot­ted cat has forced the masses to re­flect deeply on the sub­ject of hu­man-wildlife con­flicts

Airports India - - CONTENTS - PHO­TOS & TEXT: NAVIN M RA­HEJA

Wildlife lovers cel­e­brated the pres­ence of Delhi’s first prop­erly doc­u­mented leop­ard in re­cent times. And in­stantly, there was a con­tra­dic­tion. The head­lines of 25 Novem­ber 2016, were heart-wrench­ing.

A leop­ard was beaten to death and that too bru­tally, by the res­i­dents of Man­dawar vil­lage in Gu­ru­gram’s Sohna area. While the for­est depart­ment claimed to be present on the spot, they said, the vil­lagers didn’t

al­low them to do their job. They took the task on them­selves at­tack­ing the leop­ard with stones, sticks, spades and what not. Strange, isn’t it?

There is no deny­ing the fact that it at­tacked 8 peo­ple in the vil­lage, but how does it jus­tify what the vil­lagers did to the leop­ard? The leop­ard prob­a­bly had pan­icked with the crowd around and must have re­acted, not to harm any­one, but to save it­self. Shouldn’t the for­est depart­ment have tried to tran­quil­lize it, es­pe­cially when they claimed to be present on the spot and were fully equipped with tran­quil­liz­ers, nets and a cage?

This is not the first time when a leop­ard had come out of its habi­tat and had been lynched to death by a mob. This re­flects the fail­ure of a sys­tem that’s un­able to con­trol the sit­u­a­tion when such cir­cum­stances arise, which even­tu­ally al­ways lead to loss of lives of both the species, whether it’s hu­man or the an­i­mal.

On Fe­bru­ary 20, 2015, the news of a leop­ard’s death was re­ported in Us­man­pur, the north­east area of Delhi. This was the fourth re­ported in­ci­dent of death in a row and ninth re­ported in be­tween June 2014 and Fe­bru­ary 2015.

There is a say­ing, “A leop­ard can­not change its spots”. So is it us hu­mans who need to change? The larger ques­tion, how­ever, is, whether peo­ple and large car­ni­vores like leop­ards who share a land­scape; can co­ex­is­tence be­tween the two foster?

The crum­bling of forests and de­struc­tion of wildlife habi­tats is the grave rea­son be­hind the ex­ter­mi­na­tion of the wildlife. Al­though by and large, the lo­cal leop­ard pop­u­la­tion tries to steer clear of hu­mans, but at times con­flict be­comes in­evitable ei­ther be­cause peo­ple sim­ply see a leop­ard and create panic or be­cause a leop­ard starts vis­it­ing near hu­man set­tle­ments in search of goats, cat­tle and even dogs since its prey pop­u­la­tion is dwin­dling due to hu­man en­croach­ment.

The hu­man-leop­ard con­flict isn’t new to us but we gen­er­ally turn a blind eye to its reper­cus­sions, which do in­volve us, but it largely af­fects the leop­ards. Hu­mans still have a shel­ter but the leop­ards, un­for­tu­nately, are fast los­ing it. A study con­ducted for over four years by Wildlife In­sti­tute of In­dia, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety and the Na­tional Cen­tre for Bi­o­log­i­cal Sciences shows an 80 per­cent de­crease in In­dia’s Leop­ard Pop­u­la­tion over the last 100 years. Be­sides, we still take self­pride in mob lynch­ing or poi­son­ing of this oth­er­wise harm­less crea­ture.

Isn’t it time for In­dia to have a Project Leop­ard?

While Delhi has the Asola Bhati sanc­tu­ary in the Aravali hills and Ra­jasthan has the Sariska Tiger Re­serve, the in­ter­ven­ing Aravali ar­eas in Haryana have no sanc­tu­ary or na­tional park. The Aravalis ad­join­ing Delhi es­pe­cially along Gu­ru­gram-farid­abad high­way con­nects Asola Bhati with the rest of the patchy jun­gle belt of Haryana and Ra­jasthan. It might serve as an im­por­tant wildlife cor­ri­dor if con­served truly. Aravalis have been the leop­ards’ tra­di­tional habi­tat. There is enough wild prey in the scrub for­est. Then there are ravines too, which makes it per­fect for leop­ards to live stealth­ily.

In Novem­ber 2014 a full-grown leop­ard

Gu­ru­gram leop­ard

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