A leopard killed two young girls late on Wednesday in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district, sending shockwaves among terrified local villagers amid increasing man-animal conflict in the hill state due to breakneck industrialisation and burgeoning population pressure.
Laxmi, 14, was found dead by her mother inside a cowshed around 2 kilometres from her village of Partha while the body of her sister, nine-year-old Kavita, was discovered in a nearby jungle, just outside the shed where they had gone to feed domestic animals.
When they didn’t come back till 7pm, the mother went in search of the girls and heard the leopard roar.
"She ran towards the cowshed and was horrified to see the dead body of her elder daughter lying in the cowshed,” said Narendra Singh, a relative.
Since its creation in 2000, Uttarakhand has lost 257 people to leopard attacks with a shrinking prey base and human encroachment on its habitat triggering a spike in man-animal conflict, most of which are reported from areas on the edges of forest reserves.
The state has one of the highest leopard populations in the country at 2,335 and the big cats have already killed at least 10 people this year.
But the latest attack has officials worried since this part of the district hadn’t seen such an attack in the past five years, causing panic among residents who are dependent on the local forests for their daily chores and livelihood.
"A cage has already been installed at the strategic point and a team of experts has also been dispatched," said NN Pandey, district forest officer of the Badrinath forest division. Officials could only reach the area early on Thursday due to heavy rain in the area.
Residents in three well-populated villages nearby are now scared for their lives as the area is covered in thick forests.
"The village Sagwara is very close to the cowshed where the leopard killed the two sisters," state Congress committee secretary Sushil Rawat told HT.
"Now that two precious lives are lost, the beast should be declared a man eater and either be caught or killed to relieve the people of the panic," Babita Bisht, Sagwara village chief said. Since 2000, 141 leopards have been declared man-eaters, out of which 32 have been killed.
The attack comes barely a week after a man-eating leopard was shot dead in Pauri district after it killed two people.