Big cats cannot be killed or declared “man-eaters”, the Uttarakhand high court said on Monday, in a landmark decision for a region that has seen a spate of man-animal conflicts recently.
Hearing a public interest litigation, a two-judge HC bench said tigers, leopards and panthers posing a threat to human life should be captured alive with tranquilizer guns in the presence of veterinarians and released in a forest later.
Senior justice Rajeev Sharma and justice Alok Singh also barred any display of wild animal’s carcass in print or electronic media and announced a raft of measures to curb mounting poaching and accidental deaths.
The decision comes on the back of several cases of culling of “man-eaters” by wildlife and government officials, who often coordinate efforts that comprise hundreds of men and cost lakhs.
The state’s highest wildlife official designates an animal as a “man-eater” after it attacks a human or enters human settlements, but there is no designated process for the naming. Experts warn that eliminating man-eaters is unlikely to solve the state’s bigger problem.
Increasing encroachment of wildlife habitats is leading to a severe lack of space and prey base for the big cats, experts say, forcing them to kill humans to survive. More than 100 leopards are officially classified as man-eaters.
The court asked the government to set up a high-level committee comprising the principal secretary, forest and principal chief conservator of forest to ascertain whether a particular animal posed a threat.
No engagement of private hunters will be allowed by the state government and any encroachers on forest land will have to be evicted in a year. It further directed the Centre to formulate a national forest policy for better forest management. It also ordered a 10km eco-sensitive zone around the Corbett Tiger Reserve and other protected areas in Uttarakhand.
The court directed the Railways to dig trenches near tracks and insulate electric poles with fences to avoid electrocution of animals.
It called for exemplary punishment, including life imprisonment, for poachers, and asked the administration to appoint at least 10,000 fire watchers to detect and contain forest fires.