A bear in south Kashmir nearly escaped death after villagers, angered over the killing of nearly 24 people by wild animals, tried to set the animal on fire.
The bear had attacked a household in Mohammadpora village of Kulgam district, some 60 km from Srinagar, before climbing atop a walnut tree when villagers armed with fire-torches gathered around it.
"It was not an attempt to kill the bear but to scare him away. Our staff members who are stationed near the forest of the village saw it running back into the forest safely," said wildlife warden of Kulgam-Anantnag region, Imtiyaz Ahmad.
The incidents of man-animal conflict collected from wildlife department of Kashmir reveals an increasing trend from 1995 to 2009. Of the total 643 incidents, bears and leopards were the main animals involved.
In the south Kashmir belt alone, wildlife officials informed 19 people lost their lives and over 200 had been injured in the past two years. The fatality-data of north Kashmir was not available immediately.
"We recorded 12 deaths in bear and leopard attacks last year. This year, after taking some proactive measures and raising awareness among locals, we have only two fatalities," Imtiyaz Ahmad said.
Officials give different reasons to the increasing number of encounters.
"The basic is conversion of paddy land into orchards near forests, orchard owners constructing homes in their lands and a ban on shooting of the animal in early 1980s. With eruption of militancy, the hunting of animals stopped completely as people surrendered their hunting guns," said Intissar Suhail, wildlife warden of Shopian-Pulwama region.
Chief wildlife warden AK Singh, however, said they were making "sustained" efforts to prevent the number of incidents.
But people and wildlife officials on ground are not convinced. "Life is dear to everyone. Whenever we see a bear or leopard near human dwelling, we immediately inform wildlife officials and police.
However when there is a lack of training and manpower among officials, people are forced to take law into their hands," said Shakur Ahmad, a shopkeeper of Shopian.