Human – Leopard Conflict, Ranthambore Tiger Reserveby Dharmendra Khandal
Chosen as Picture of the Week
The mere sighting of a leopard in the vicinity of human habitations does not necessarily mean that the animal has strayed from a forest and needs to be captured. Further, arbitrary removal of leopards could lead to increased conﬂict.
A leopard was captured in a village from Bauli Tehsil of Sawai Madhopur District and released in Sawai Mansingh Sanctuary, 40 km away from the leopard’s territory. The leopard was just spotted by villagers and summoned the forest department to remove it. After 3 days, the leopard found its way back to its homerange as typically happens. On the way back, it encountered villagers and accidentally injured a child. A chaos ensued, and during the (second) forest department rescue operation, it attacked 8-9 people, including a few forest guards. Here, a half-sedated leopard is chased by a villager with an axe, supposedly to help forest department in the rescue. Thankfully, the injured leopard eventually escaped into the bushes.
Incidences of leopards ‘straying’ into settlements causing human causalities, and the retaliatory killing of leopards by the public have been on the rise. These cases are also being reported more often. Leopards often take up residence in agricultural fields, tea and coffee estates. They are not usually inclined to attack people; on the contrary, they avoid people. In most cases the animal tries to get away but villagers start chasing the animal and/or start pelting the animal with stones. Wild carnivores may attack in self-defence, and, therefore, it is advisable to avoid provoking them. The mere sighting of a leopard in the vicinity of human habitations does not necessarily mean that the animal has strayed from a forest and needs to be captured. Further, arbitrary removal of leopards could lead to increased conﬂict. The space vacated by a captured animal will soon be occupied by another leopard.
Crowd management is crucial to any successful animal rescue operation and can be carried out only with the help of the police (who can, if needed declare section 144 and prevent formation of crowds). This will create space to allow the animal to escape or allow the forest department emergency response (ER) team to handle the situation effectively. Without crowd control, no amount of forest department training will help.
Ironically, none of these incidents would have occurred if the leopard was left alone when it was first spotted in Bauli. It was a lose-lose situation for both the leopard and the villagers and in the end would have only helped aggravate future conflict situations.