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Uttarakhand: Women brave wild animals every morning to feed their bovines

On an average 35 people fall prey to leopards every year. Officials say nearly 50% of the victims are women.

dehradun Updated: Oct 20, 2017 11:18 IST
Nihi Sharma
Nihi Sharma
Hindustan Times, Almora
Man-animal conflict,Leopard attack,Uttarakhand
A woman collects fodder for her buffaloes and bulls from forest in Uttarakhand where human-leopard conflict has claimed many lives. (HT Photo )

Women in rural Uttarakhand brave wild animals to get fodder from forests for their bulls and buffaloes every morning, further deepening state’s alarming human-leopard conflict.

These women, who make up most of the victims of the conflict, say they are aware of the risk, but have no choice.

“Ghaas to chahiye hota hai. Ghaas nahi layengey to humarey janwar kya khayengey? (We need grass. If we won’t collect it then what will our cattle eat?)” Uma Devi told Hindustan Times as she recovered from injuries she recently sustained from a leopard attack.

Doctors at the surgical ward of the district hospital in Almora said she is lucky to escape death.

Uma Devi (34) was attacked on October 8 when she rushed to help Pooja Devi, another woman of her Pilkha village, some 20 km from Almora. Twenty-two-year-old Pooja was attacked by the leopard when she strayed away from the group to collect more grass.

Both the women survived the attack as a few men gathered and shooed the animal away. But not everyone is as lucky. Over 600 people have been killed and 3100 injured in leopard attacks since the inception of the state in 2000. On an average 35 people fall prey to leopards every year. Officials claim nearly 50% of the victims are women while 20% are children and remaining 30% are men.

Almora and Pauri districts are worst hit by the human-leopard conflict.

Over 150 leopards have been declared man-eaters since the formation of the state. Of them nearly 40 were captured and about the same number was shot dead.

“Life for women in hills is extremely difficult. Most of them do farming along with taking care of their household works. They also take care of their domesticated animals and provide for their food just as they do for their families,” said shooter Joy Hukil, who is a resident of one of the worst-hit districts, Pauri.

Hukil so far killed 20 man-eater leopards at the behest of the state administration.

To prevent women risking their lives, forest department conducts sensitisation meetings across the state, cautioning villagers against venturing into dense forest.

State’s chief wildlife warden Digvijay Singh Khati said, “We ask them (villagers) not to risk their lives, but they are dependent on forest for the collection of grass for their animals.”

In the absence of an alternative, the women continue to tread the hazardous path.

Geeta Bisht, a 33-year-old woman from Pilkha village, was busy feeding her buffaloes and bullocks when HT reached the village.

It was almost lunch time but she had to feed the animals first.

“We need at least 10-12 kilogram of grass each day for big animals like bullocks and buffaloes. To collect it we have to spend at least 5-7 hours in the forest every day,” she said, adding the animals are integral to their life.

Echoing her view, 45-year-old Damyanti Devi of Barkot village in Kaljikhal block of Pauri district explained, “We need bullocks to plough our fields and buffaloes for milk. To feed them, we have no other option but to collect grass from the forests.

Green grass grows in the forest between June and December. And for remaining months, farmers keep a portion of their farm land reserve for growing grass.

First Published: Oct 20, 2017 11:17 IST

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