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The man-eaters of Uttarakhand

The mountain state has in the last 13 years declared 182 big cats, including 166 leopards and 16 tigers, as man-eaters

dehradun Updated: Jun 13, 2018 22:51 IST
Nihi Sharma
Nihi Sharma
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Man eater,Threat to life,Tiger
In last 13 years, 45 leopards have been killed after being declared man eaters. (HT File)

Hours after a leopard mauled to death a seven-year-old boy in Uttarakhand’s Bageshwar district, officials issued an order to “destroy” the big cat after declaring it “dangerous to human lives.”

In simpler words, the leopard has been declared a ‘man-eater’. It became tenth wild animal including two elephants that have been declared man-eaters in Uttarakhand in last six months, as per the state forest department.

The order declaring the leopard in Bageshwar as dangerous to human life came at a lightning speed — probably because angry locals set on fire the undergrowth in nearby jungles burning to ashes nearly eight hectares of forest land.

The anger in the Harinagri village had been simmering since March 23 when a four-year-old boy from the same area was killed in another leopard attack. The villagers suspect that the same leopard was responsible for both the killings.’

The Uttarakhand high court had in December 2016 ordered a complete ban on the killing tigers, leopards and panthers that were declared “man-eaters/rogues.” The court instead said that “the wild animal that pose threat to human life should be captured alive and released in nearby forests or can be kept in zoo temporarily and thereafter be released in its own habitat”. It had also directed the state government to not engage any private hunters to kill wild animals”.

The Uttarakhand government, however, moved Supreme Court and got a stay on HC order in 2017. It simultaneously continued to declare problem big cats as “threat to human life”.

As per a Right to Information (RTI) reply, 182 big cats, including 166 leopards and 16 tigers, have been declared maneaters in Uttarakhand in last 13 years beginning 2006. As many as 15 leopards and three tigers were declared man-eaters in 2016. In 2017, officials found that 16 big cats were declared threat to human life.

Of the 10 animals declared maneater in first six months of 2018, seven are leopards, one is a tiger and two elephants.

Soon after declaring the Bageshar big cat as man-eater, the forest department has engaged shooter Lakhpat Singh, who has a record of killing 46 man-eater leopards, for culling the animal.

“Once a big cat has attacked a human, it is unlikely for it not to hunt humans again. The best possible way is to remove such problem animals,” Singh said.

Going by the official figures of the forest department, in past one decade, highest 24 man-eaters were declared in 2009. They included 20 leopards and four tigers.

As per the RTI reply, between 2006 till 2016, hunters gunned down 45 leopards that were declared man-eaters. Officials close to the matter said that nearly 50 % of the big cats declared man-eaters were rescued and released in other areas to contain conflict.

“Roughly 50% of the leopards that become dangerous to human life are caught and released in wild. Even the department does not want to kill these animals,” a senior forest official requesting anonymity said.

The hill state does not have latest figures on leopard population. The last survey was done in 2008 in which nearly 2,300 leopards were reported. Another exercise was done in 2015 but the officials failed to release figures of the population as only a part of the estimation was done.

“To understand the depth of man-leopard conflict, we need to have a study of the leopard population to plan mitigation steps,” Vidya Athreya, a Maharashtra-based expert said. Athreya is guiding the state forest department in adopting a mitigation plan currently operational in Tehri and Pauri districts.

DVS Khati, chief wildlife warden, however, justified the department’s order. “The ban (on declaring man eaters) was lifted after we took the stay from Supreme Court. When conflict is reported, it is the department staff that faces the heat,” he said, adding that’s what happened in Bageshwar.

The attack on the boy took place Monday evening when he had gone to answer nature’s call while his mother was in the kitchen, PTI had quoted chief conservator of forest BP Gupta as saying.

The leopard dragged the boy inside the forest surrounding the house. The next morning, his half eaten body was recovered by villagers 250 metres away.

“Angry villagers set on fire eight hectares of van panchayat land in the village on Tuesady,” Gupta, who is also the nodal officer for forest fires said quoting Bageshwar DFO RK Singh. The fire could not be extinguished as irate villagers did not allow outsides to enter the village, he said.

“Since it was the second such incident in the area, the villagers may have burnt down the forest to clear the thickets and destory the big cat’s hideout to save themselves,” the official said.

First Published: Jun 13, 2018 22:51 IST