Winter is coming: Uttarakhand hills gearing up to face leopards in the cold weather
As the season heralds the start of the mating period of leopards, Uttarakhand gears up to tackle attacks on local residents.india Updated: Oct 28, 2017 07:41 IST
Forty-year-old Maya Devi on that fateful morning of October 24 went to milk her cow as usual, little knowing that death was lurking behind her.
As soon as Devi, a resident of Kotdwar in Pauri Garhwal district, went inside the shed, the cow ran towards the forest. As she ran after the cow, a leopard hiding behind the bushes pounced on her, making her yet another victim of Uttarakhand’s alarming human-leopard conflict. The big cats have killed over 600 people in past 17 years, on an average 50 people per year, and injured over 3,000. The conflict rate is highest in the country, claim activists.
With the onset of winter, which is the mating season for the big cats, the conflict will further deepen, experts say. “Male big cats (both tigers and leopards) explore newer territories in search of mate because of which human-leopard interaction particularly rises during this season. After all, they will need food also,” K Ramesh of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) told HT.
Though there’s no independent study to establish this trend, scientists say it’s a general behaviour of the species. Even the villagers share the same concern.
“We do not even fear monsoon when the grass is spread across everywhere, but the winter season is toughest,” Sushila Devi, a resident of Rikhnikhal village in Pauri said. Activists claim 50% of leopard attack incidents are reported in the winter that starts from October and ends in March.
To avert attacks, the villagers now push for installation of more cages in the vicinity where the big cats are on the prowl. But the stringent Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, they said, often prevents such move.
“The Act empowers the chief wildlife warden to give permission for the cage. But for unintentional attacks-like encounter of women with big cats, while they collect grass and fodder inside the forest, we don’t give permission. In such situations, it’s the people who enter leopard habitat and not leopards coming to kill them,” Digvijay Singh Khati, chief wildlife warden told HT.
Nearly 150 leopards have been tagged man-eaters since the formation of the state in 2000. Of them 35 were killed, 40 were captured and released and the status of remaining is unknown. Those captured and released are posing threat as they tend to come back to the area from where they were captured. An ongoing study of WII conducted in Pauri, which is the worst-hit by the conflict, against similar study in Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal has established that the leopard attacks here are triggered due to predation while that in the eastern state is accidental.
Problems and solutions
The WII is currently undertaking a study on the drivers behind leopard attacks in Uttarakhand. The study is in its nascent stages. But, the reasons are well known.
Forest officers claim lack of prey base is one important reason behind the growing conflict, but others blame encroachment.
On the lines of Maharashtra, Uttarakhand has also started working on an action plan. As per the plan quick response teams of villagers and rapid response team of forest staff is constituted in Tehri and Pauri districts to sensitise villagers and provide immediate assistance during the conflict.