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Leopard-human conflict: Loving reunions, awareness create co-existence

State forest officials claim that the mother-cub reunion campaign and general awareness has drastically reduced leopard attacks on humans particularly during the sugarcane crop cutting season in Junnar

pune Updated: Feb 14, 2018 23:50 IST
Ashish Phadnis
Ashish Phadnis
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Leopard-human conflict,Loving reunions
As a part of the awareness campaign, Dr Ajay Deshmukh (centre), senior veteran, MLRC from Wildlife SOS (NGO) have organised briefings at Omkareshwar tribal school where students are informed about how to avoid conflict with leopards. (WILDLIFE SOS/HT PHOTO)

Junnar and Ambegaon talukas are infamous for the leopard–human conflict. Every year several cases of attacks on civilians and livestock are registered. However, this time the forest department has managed to reduce the number of incidents drastically and claim that their two campaigns - mother-cub reunion and general awareness - have been successful.

It has been observed that the number of incidents increase during the sugarcane cutting season which lasts from March to May. As per forest department records, the highest number of deaths (6) during the crop season were registered in 2015.

The forest department, then, chalked out a long-term plan to reduce the conflict with the help of NGOs and animal activists. The results were witnessed next year itself wherein the number of deaths reduced to two in 2016 and not a single death was recorded in 2017.

This year, however, one death was registered last month.

“Reuniting cubs with their mothers has brought tremendous success and it has drastically reduced the number of attacks on humans,” said AP Mhase, deputy conservator of forest, Junnar.

“Normally, the mother leopard is scared of male leopards who kill her cubs and she takes shelter near human settlements to protect her cubs. Once she gets confidence that humans won’t harm her cubs, she avoids the conflict,” he added.

Since 2009, the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre (MLRC) has initiated such operations and so far they have reunited 44 cubs with their mothers. “We have launched many awareness campaigns. The crop cutting is done during daytime and being a nocturnal animal, leopards roam in the area after sunset. So, we have advised villagers to curb their activities after dusk and keep as much distance as they can from the sugarcane fields to avoid danger. It gives the leopards enough time to look for another shelter,” Mhase added.

As a part of the awareness campaign, forest departments organised gram sabhas (village meeting) to brief people about the measures being taken. Forest department officials have also been organising briefings at schools where students are informed about how to avoid conflict with leopards and were asked to pass on the message to their parents.

Recently, a letter was also issued to all schools and gram panchayats in the area regarding safety measures to be undertaken.

When asked why the issue is severe in Junnar taluka, compared to other parts where sugarcane is the main crop, Mhase said, “The issue is more severe in the Junnar taluka due to change in the crop pattern. The villagers grow different types of crops, thus, reducing the area of leopard’s shelter. Whereas in Ambegaon taluka, the leopards get an option to shift from one sugarcane field to another, hence, only a few incidents are registered there.”

No permanent solution

“Whether the villagers of these areas like it or not but they must accept the fact that they have to live with leopards and there is no permanent solution for it,” said Dr Ajay Deshmukh, senior veteran, MLRC.

“We have observed that trapping and relocating leopards is not a solution, in fact, it created more issues and resulted in more attacks. The leopards have adapted themselves for the sugarcane fields. Trapping all of them and relocating them to other places is practically impossible. Even if we manage to do so, immediately new leopards will replace them and it will only make the situation worse,” he said.

Echoing him, wildlife activist Nikit Surve, who works with Vidya Athreya, a famous wildlife biologist, said, “This is a complex issue and awareness and accepting co-existence is the key. It’s going to take a long time to convince the villagers. Mostly our steps are reactive, but when we started working pro-actively, the results have been good. Due to the relocation process, the number of attacks were increased but since the department has stopped doing it, the number has come down.”

Surve also pointed out the effect of social media.

“It’s not the case that leopard sighting or attacks have drastically increased since the last four-five years. But earlier it was limited to local areas, now a recent incident happened in Ambegaon and it was instantly reported across the Pune district. This is why it looks like a growth but in reality, it’s been going on for decades,” activists added.

First Published: Feb 14, 2018 23:49 IST