After roaming in the wilderness of Capital’s Yamuna Biodiversity Park for over a month—since he was caught on camera for the first time—the three-year-old leopard was caught early Saturday morning.
AK Shukla, chief wildlife warden, who has also been entrusted the case of the leopard, told HT that the wild cat was caught outside the forest area near the banks of the Yamuna .
“We did not want to catch the animal till it was in the forest, in his natural ecosystem. The cages were kept outside the forest and the animal was trapped only when it stepped out,” he said.
How was the leopard caught?
The three-year-old leopard was caught in the cage around 5.30am on Saturday in the phase-I portion of the 457-acre park in North Delhi. When the animal was caught, scientists observed that its belly was flattened as if it had not eaten for a few days.
CR Babu, professor emeritus at the Centre for Management of Degraded Ecosystems (CEMDE), which manages the biodiversity park, said that the animal had wandered into phase-I of the park, which does not have enough prey base.
“Phase 2 of the park, where the animal was spotted initially, is an active floodplain where there is ample prey base. In fact when animal was first spotted, its belly was hanging, which shows that it was well-fed. This was also the reason why it probably came out of the biodiversity park, where it was caught,” he said.
Shukla concurred with the view.
“We had to move the camera traps and the cage according to the movement of the animal. The cages were set up on the banks of the river where locals have illegally cultivated patches of land,” he confirmed.
What happens to the animal now?
Shukla said that the leopard will be taken to the Rajaji National Park in Shivalik Ranges near Saharanpur, to its natural habitat. The animal is likely to be moved on Sunday.
The carnivore was taken to the Delhi zoo where its health conditions were tested. Though no external injuries were seen, the animal is still being tested for internal injuries.
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of NGO Wildlife SOS, said that their team received a call from the forest department around 9am to help transport the leopard to the zoo. By afternoon around 2pm, the animal was shifted to the zoo, he said.
“The male leopard was first tranquilised and then transported in an ambulance cum rescue vehicle,” a statement released by the NGO read.
Experts not happy
Wildlife and leopard experts are not happy with this capture and say that this was a “politically motivated” step.
Vidya Athreya, ecologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, said that this move was taken without much thought.
“Capturing the leopard is not a solution. Leopards are known to stay near human habitation. What will you do if more leopards come to the park?” she asked.
Athreya said that if the animal is shifted it will increase the chances of it harming humans.
“The shock of being trapped confuses the animal and makes it more violent. Leaving it into a new environment will confuse it further and it might harm the humans in the nearby villages. We have seen such instances in Maharashtra in the past,” she said.
Studies have shown that leopards have a strong homing tendency that leads them to head back towards the area they were removed from.
Guidelines released by the environment ministry in 2011 say, 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. Arbitrary removal of leopards could lead to increased conflict. The space vacated by a captured animal will soon be occupied by another leopard.”
Babu too agreed with Athreya saying that the cycle of a healthy ecosystem will be disturbed by the removal of the animal from here.
“With the removal of the top carnivore, the number of herbivores in the ecosystem will multiply. We hope more leopards come into the park and till then we can learn our lessons,” he said.
How to avoid conflict?
In conflict situations, rather than the management of the animal, it is often a management of people that assumes primacy.
Wildlife biologist and expert on leopards, Sanjay Gubbi said that in situations where a leopard becomes visible, people gather and agitate the animal – rather than letting it leave from the area.
“People living around the area should be educated of how to manage a leopard spotting,” he said.