Should the department of forests and wildlife, Punjab, trap leopards and jail them in zoos even when the big cat is resting in its own habitat? Here is one more such case from Powat village near Samrala on the Sirhind canal. The case found mention in public space with recent news reports stating that one man had been injured in a 'leopard attack' and photos printed of the shepherd, Pal Singh, with severe injuries to the arm. The department, in response to the public panic and outrage, placed two traps for the leopard at Powat and in nearby fields, which were removed only on Friday.
When asked, divisional forest officer (DFO), wildlife, Phillaur, Gursharan Singh, contradicted and claimed that "it was not a leopard but a jungle cat". In the same breath, he also justified the traps, saying "the area was agrarian and open, and that the district's senior bureaucrats wanted the creature removed."
However, a spot inquiry by the Punjab state wildlife advisory board member Nikhil Sanger, and versions of the department's field staff and shepherds bring out the facts.
It was indeed a leopard that had taken shelter in a 'beri' 2km from Powat. The area lies along the canal and has scrub jungle. Grazing is prohibited here. The dogs of the two shepherds, Pal and Chhinda, came upon the leopard and the alarmed men rushed back to the village. With reinforcements, they came back and burst crackers forcing the leopard to flee. News spread and local mediapersons arrived, who wanted to click the big cat. When the posse went back to the spot, the leopard had returned to the 'beri' and on being prodded with a long stick, it charged the men and injured Pal.
The leopard fled and was seen in later days at night near Jharrsahib village. Under the orders of the sub-divisional manager (SDM), a trap has now been placed for the big cat in Lakhanpur village where it is believed to have sought refuge in sugarcane. Were the department to trap the leopard and jail it at the Chhatbir zoo, it will take the number of caged leopards to 13.
This is in violation of the central zoo authority's circulars that forbid zoos from maintaining more than 10 leopards. Apart from that, people and mediapersons need to ponder over the fact that not a single human has been killed by a leopard in Punjab, whereas snakes and rabid dogs routinely kill dozens every year.
POACHERS VS LEOPARDS
Sometimes, villagers resorting to poaching wild boar and sambar in the jungles stumble upon a leopard. The wildlife department is then put under pressure to remove the leopard as its presence in the jungles deters such nefarious activities. Hoshiarpur DFO (wildlife), Satnam Singh, recounts a harrowing time. Poachers with Bull terrier dogs were hunting in scrublands about 4km from Dadali Mand village near Kathgarh (Roopnagar) on the Satluj river last summer. The dogs came upon a leopard in the 'sarkanda' and two were injured. Villagers raised a hue and cry and the department team arrived to tranquilise and 'rescue' the big cat. However, the leopard escaped and irate villagers pounced upon wildlife officials. "They threatened to destroy our vehicles. They even said they would kill the leopard themselves.
Fortunately, police was at the spot and an ugly situation was averted," said Satnam.
"Not only this, villagers burnt large tracts of the 'sarkanda', took a fleet of tractors through the jungle and brought out their guns to hound the leopard. This was certainly not the case where a leopard had 'trespassed' into a village,'' said Nikhil Sanger.
India's leading authority on leopard-human conflict management, Vidya Athreya, quotes the clear guidelines of the ministry of environment and forests: "If a leopard has not attacked a human deliberately, the guidelines say avoid setting traps. If the leopard is in an open area surrounded by people, all attempts should be made to keep the crowd from approaching near and the leopard be allowed to escape under darkness."
COUNTING THE NOTES
For the second year running, the HSBC-sponsored India Bird Races will desist from awarding prizes to the first three teams that count maximum numbers of bird species in a day. The decision came upon criticism that counting was being turned into a veritable "sponsored rat race''. The Chandigarh leg of the race is scheduled for February 15 and will see 15 teams count birds in a radius of 30-50 km from Chandigarh. Though as reputed an NGO as the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has not sanctioned the HSBC races, BNHS director Asad Rahmani takes a positive view of such activities.
Rahmani told this writer: "Such bird races and festivals create lot of interest in birds and their conservation. Birdwatching is a growing hobby and profession in India. There is nothing wrong if it is done properly. People who go for birdwatching are at least interested in birds and their habitats, unlike most Indians who do not care for such things or have no hobby/interest."
However, mere bird-watching may not foster conservation or prompt citizens to take up cudgels against those destroying habitats. The BNHS is officially coordinating the Indian leg of the global movement, the Great Bird Backyard Count, from February 13-16. Does interest during one event mean all birders do anything for birds for the rest of the year?
Answering this query in Scroll.in, the BNHS's manager, communications, Atul Sathe, remarked: "Although awareness has increased, as a naturalist, I don't think it is being converted into action. People are concerned in small capacities of groups and societies, but in general, they do not then start to make environment-friendly lifestyle choices. I am not blaming them, but it will take more time for action to happen."
There is the vexed question of the HSBC's quest for green glory. The bank is under investigation by a number of nations on charges of money-laundering, recycling drug money, tax evasion and funding environmentally-harmful projects. Such as, the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze river (China) that threatens wild species including critically-endangered Siberian cranes. It figured prominently in the expose on Indian wealth stashed in Swiss banks.