Tiger’s poorer cousin leopard remains ignored in Uttarakhand
The old Chinese saying ‘if you go to the mountain often enough, you will meet the tiger’ holds literally true for the big cat going by its rising population in the country. In Uttarakhand alone, the latest Phase IV survey results of Corbett and Rajaji have projected a sizeable increase in tiger numbersdehradun Updated: Jul 28, 2017 20:24 IST
The old Chinese saying ‘if you go to the mountain often enough, you will meet the tiger’holds literally true for the big cat going by its rising population in the country. In Uttarakhand alone, the latest Phase IV survey results of Corbett and Rajaji have projected a sizeable increase in tiger numbers.
But somewhere the tiger’s poor but equally magnificent cousin the leopard has not got the same attention which the striped cat gets.The Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) is listed as ‘Vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. In terms of criticality, leopards are next to tigers which are listed as ‘Endangered’.
Ironically, the plight of leopards is due to its presence in large numbers, especially in Uttarakhand. The 2008 Census puts leopard population at 2,335 in Utttarakhand.The large population and shrinking habitat has led to an alarming level of human-leopard conflict.
According to the Uttarakhand forest department’s statistics,over 604 people were killed in leopard attacks since the state’s formation in 2000. Over 3,092 were injured in the same period. The situation is severe in fringe areas of forest that are inhabited by people, who are largely dependent on forests for their existence.
Even cities face the threat of leopard attacks in Uttarakhand. In 2015, a leopard killed a girl at the Forest Research Institute which is Dehradun. The presence of leopards is regularly reported in areas of Vasant Vihar, Suddhowala, Balawal among others.
As recently as Thursday, a leopard entered premises of a government school in Pauri on Thursday afternoon. Another leopard attacked a 60-year-old villager in the district.
The forest department started an exercise in 2015 for census but it was done partially owing to wider habitat and lack of coordination. Sadly, nothing has been done for conserving leopards. “For us, leopards are equally important like tigers. We will work on better enforcement for its protection and strategy to mitigate conflict,” forest minister Harak Singh Rawat told Hindustan Times.
Poaching is the biggest survival threat that the spotted cat faces. Encroachment by humans and fragmentation of formerly connected populations are other challenges confronting the leopard. Before December 2016, the forest department used to either rescue or shoot down leopards which were identified as ‘man-eaters’. But after the high court directed the government to stop declaring tigers and leopards as man-eaters, the department rescued old and injured leopards.
On the lines of Maharashtra, Rapid Response Teams operate in division level and Quick Response Teams in village level in Pauri, Almora and Tehri for responding to SOS calls. The teams have just started working. But, the objective of the teams is to provide immediate assistance at the conflict site. “Our response teams have started working on ground. We will replicate this model in other divisions as well.” chief wildlife warden Digvijay Singh Khati.