Increasing human-leopard conflicts have prompted the state forest department to prepare an action plan that includes setting up a relocation centre for captured big cats and increasing the prey base in and around their habitats.
In the last one week, two women were killed in separate leopard attacks in Alwar district. In October-November last year, two people died after a leopard attacked them in Pratapgarh area of Alwar; three were injured.
After the recent incidents, forest officials caught two leopards, but could not verify if they had attacked. Sariska Tiger Foundation experts have suggested that a forensic laboratory be set up to identify the animal behind an attack.
Placed under schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, leopards are an endangered species.
The leopard population in Rajasthan has fluctuated in the last six years. There were 496 leopards in 2009, 527 in 2010, 565 in 2011, 562 in 2012 and 612 in 2013. The number dipped to 420 in 2014; in 2015, the state recorded 434 leopards.
According to official figures, around 20 leopards were killed in the state between 2014 and 2016 either in road accidents or by villagers.
“Looking at increasing man-animal conflicts -- be it leopard and tiger – we are planning to hold stool test immediately after an animal is captured to identify whether it is a man or cattle eater; accordingly it can be declared a problem animal, otherwise can be released in protected areas,” said Arindam Tomar, chief conservator of forest (wildlife).
He said a rescue centre will be developed for leopards, which are now sent to zoos.
On conflicts, Tomar said, “Ecologically, every place has a carrying capacity; whenever the population of a species increases, they tend to move out. Now the space available -- be it for tiger or leopard -- is less than what’s required. We need to improve degraded protected areas for holding more animals, and work on population management.”
He said Himachal Pradesh started sterilising monkeys after their population increased. “In Rajasthan too, we made attempts to sterilise blue bulls, and have to think it for dogs, especially in Great Indian Bustard areas,” Tomar said.
“Increasing population of animals -- especially that of blue bull, monkey, leopard and wild boar -- requires management. Habitat has to be improved to increase carrying capacity –Sarsika has almost reached its full capacity for leopards.”
Under the action plan to curb human-leopard conflicts, the department is working on preemptive measures -- strengthening prey base; involving communities and incentivising them through SHGs for rearing prey species like wild hare and boars; development of waterholes in and around sanctuary/forest areas; filling cavities at mining dump sites to prevent leopards from using them as caves; training youth to act as primary response units; and so on.
Measures for prompt response include trained staff in rescue techniques and dealing with conflict cases; equipment and veterinary doctors.
Sunayan Sharma, former Sariska sanctuary field director, said, “We need to adopt scientific methods to identify the animal behind any attack. The forest department should develop a forensic lab like the one in Hyderabad or add a separate wing for animals at the existing forensic laboratory.”
He said, “At the advisory board meeting of Sariska Tiger Foundation, we have suggested to use DNA testing as a means to identify the animal. Wildlife Institute of India has a specialist wing that works on genetics; their services should be taken.”
As a preventive measure to tackle agitated villagers, he called for a team that will patrol the area to create awareness regarding animal movement. They can also identify pugmarks to track animals.
On conflicts, he said, “Changing situation is agitating animals; construction and mining are destroying pasture and abandoned land near villages; buffer zone is shrinking.”
At a recent workshop in Jaipur, experts called for developing grasslands, increasing prey base and curbing human disturbances to reduce human-leopard conflicts. “Wildlife keeps moving to look for food and water. Shortage of prey base is a reason for such incidents,” said deputy conservator of forest Naresh Chand Sharma.