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
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