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Forest dept says Maha ‘killer leopard’ shot dead; experts unsure

The state forest department on December 2 issued a shoot-and-kill order for the animal. Private hunters, too, were called in to track the leopard in a 5-km radius around the Chalisgaon range.

mumbai Updated: Dec 10, 2017 21:58 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Forest department,maharashtra,killer leopard
The state forest department on December 2 issued a shoot-and-kill order for the animal. Private hunters, too, were called in to track the leopard in a 5-km radius around the Chalisgaon range.(HT)

The leopard that killed seven people in and around Chalisgaon taluka in Junnar district, was shot dead on Saturday night, said forest officers. Experts, however, are skeptical if the animal that was shot was the leopard they were looking for.

The state forest department on December 2 issued a shoot-and-kill order for the animal. Private hunters, too, were called in to track the leopard in a 5-km radius around the Chalisgaon range.

Forest officials said the animal was killed by shooter Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, secretary of the Wildlife Tranquil Force, Hyderabad, at Varkhede village in Chailsgaon around 10pm on Saturday. “We can confirm that this was the problem animal as its movement was observed maximum in this village,” said AK Misra, principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) (wildlife), state forest department. “There has been one attack in this village, and considering the animal’s behaviour, the chances of another attack were likely on Saturday itself. Before that could happen, the animal was shot dead.”

Experts, however, were sceptical about the claims. “The forest department itself had said the leopard began moving towards Nashik. It is not clear whether this is the animal. In such situations, another leopard has often been found in the area,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist. “This is the problem when private marksmen are hired, as they will kill some animal or the other, and claim that it was the animal responsible for the deaths.”

Khan said he had been in Chalisgaon since December 5 and spotted a leopard thrice, but did not attack as they needed confirmation whether the animal was the killer leopard. “On Saturday night, we spotted the leopard moving carefully along one end of the road as people were walking by on the other. The leopard hid in a nearby field. As soon as it rushed towards a group of people, I shot him dead,” he said.

The attacks began from July and the leopard killed its seventh victim last Wednesday, a seven-year-old boy near Sakur village, adjoining Chalisgaon, where most of the attacks have taken place.

The forest department had set up several camera traps, 10 watchtowers and had 120 forest staff monitoring the leopard, but failed to find him.

Soon after the leopard was killed, images of local BJP MLA Unmesh Patil and local leaders standing with the leopard’s carcass went viral on social media portals. The leopard’s carcass was shoved at the backseat of a vehicle. “Killing a leopard is being boasted like a trophy,” said a local activist from Jalgaon, on the condition of anonymity.

“We are lucky to have had Khan and officers from the forest department to tackle this problem. It had gone out of hand and become an emergency situation. We hope the problem animal has been killed,” Patil told HT.

Meanwhile, other wildlife experts said the forest department needed to equip themselves to handle such situations scientifically. “Right from the first attack, if the local forest department would have carefully tracked the animals movement using camera traps, the attacks would not have lasted for so long,” said Anish Andheria, president, Wildlife Conservation Trust. “The inefficiency only leads to calling in blood thirsty sport hunters to eliminate carnivores.”

“There is nothing illegal about calling in a private hunter,” said Misra. “When shoot-and-kill orders are issued, the local police and forest department are present at the location. However, since these sharp shooters are better trained and can ensure no harm can come to the local population, they are deployed to carry out this activity.”

First Published: Dec 10, 2017 21:58 IST