A hunter shot dead a man-eater leopard a day after he left the big cat severely injured in Uttarkhand’s Tehri-Garhwal, officials said on Friday, triggering a debate over the ethics of killing a maimed animal.
Officials said the leopard was left with a shattered spine on Wednesday by the first bullet and the big cat had chewed off its hind paws in an attempt to lessen its pain. Parts of the paws were found in the leopard’s stomach during the post-mortem.
A picture of the hunter, Joy Hukil, posing with the 12-year-old leopard angered activists who demanded police action against him for killing an animal which was no longer was threat to people.
Once considered a haven for big cats, Uttarakhand is battling growing man-leopard conflicts for the past decade due to increasing human population eating into animal habitats. According to 2015 estimates, there were more than 140 man-eater leopards in the state. Thirty of them have been killed by hunters.
Forest officials in India are often accused of putting tigers and leopards on the “man-eater list” without sufficient proof.
Wildlife officials said the leopard was declared a man-eater last year after it killed and ate parts of a minor girl in the area.
Activists, however, said the hunter displayed insensitivity in killing the injured animal.
“When the animal was already shot once and was paralysed, how could it be a threat to people?” questioned animal rights activist Gauri Maulekhi.
She said the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 empowers officials to give kill order only if an animal is deemed cruel and a threat.
Maulekhi demanded an FIR against the shooter as well as the forest department for “intentionally killing an ailing animal”.
Activists were also concerned over alleged non-adherence to the standard operation procedure (SOP) prescribed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the country’s apex body on affairs of big cats.
“The first step, as per the SOP, is to capture and translocate the animal,” said Abhishekh Kumar of an NGO named TRAFFIC. “Did the department try that?”
Some experts said euthanasia could have been an alternative though painless killing of an animal suffering from incurable or painful disease is also deemed hunting under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Others, however, said the focus should be on saving the species and not just one leopard.
“I am not trying to justify the death of the leopard but it is important to get rid of an individual and save its species than to keep one alive and destroy its race,” said veteran wildlife activist AJT Johnsingh.
Experts were baffled by the leopard’s act of eating its own paws.
“Never have I seen such an incident. I believe the pain in its spinal cord was unbearable and so it chewed on its own paws,” said Sandeep Kumar Talwar, a veterinary officer based at Devprayag who conducted the postmortem on the leopard.
Some activists also flagged the increasing number if hunters deployed to kill leopards in the state as many of them allegedly don’t have the expertise and sensitivity required for big game hunting.