Over 140 predators, mainly leopards, declared man-eaters in Uttarakhand

Indian Leopard; (pix SShukla); 25-11-2015; (Chatbir Zoo, Chandigarh) (1) (Small file)

Over 150 leopards and tigers have been declared man-eaters in the state of Uttrakhand in India in just 17 years, since the formation of the state in 2000 to 2017, according to the state forest officials.

Officials from the forest department said that from 2000 to 2017, more than 150 animals, mostly leopards, have been declared man-eaters in Uttarakhand. Over 600 people have been killed and 3,100 injured in the man-animal conflicts during the period in the state. On an average, half-a-dozen incidents of man-animal conflict are reported every month in the hill state.

The districts that have witnessed the highest number of such attacks include Nainital, Almora, Champawat, Pithoragarh, Tehri Garhwal, Pauri Garhwal and Chamoli, according to the data from the forest department.

Over cups of chai in Rudraprayag, residents still share stories passed down from their grandparents about the dreaded man-eating leopard which killed 125 people in a span of eight years. The big cat’s reign of terror ended in 1926 when it was gunned down by famed hunter Jim Corbett.

But, perhaps, the mention of no other man-eater sparks such fear as that of the Champawat tiger documented in Corbett’s book ‘Man-Eaters of Kumaon’. The tiger is believed to have been responsible for an estimated 436 deaths in Nepal and the Kumaon region until Corbett shot it down in 1907.

“An animal is declared a man-eater depending on the number of kills and circumstances,” said Kehkasan Naseem, divisional forest officer (Ramnagar forest division), where a man-eater leopard is still on prowl and is being tracked by a team of hunters and two drones.

“Our efforts are first to trap the animal in a cage, tranquillize it and move it to a safe sanctuary. Shooting it down is the last resort,” Naseem said.

For professional hunters on trail of the beasts, the job comes with its share of risks. It is not always that the forest department has the resources to equip them with tranquillizer guns and darts or GPS trackers. In such situations, it is the experience gained over years, sharpened senses and instinct that help the hunters track down the animal.

Talking to TOI, Harish Dhami, one of the professional shooters tracking the man-eating leopard in Ramnagar, said, “Leopards are more aggressive compared to tigers. While tigers try to avoid human contact, leopards frequently enter human territory. Thus, a man-eating leopard is a greater threat than a tiger.”

Wildlife activists say that rapid urbanization and deforestation has led to tigers and leopards being pushed into human habitats. A G Ansari, a wildlife activist, said, “Encroachment of wild animal habitat by humans has led to increased incidents of man-animal conflict.”

Different behavior of leopards

Leopards in Uttrakhand like human flesh but those in West Bengal attack only if someone trespasses their territory, a government project tracking habits of the big cats has found.

The Wildlife Institute of India’s project that started in Pauri district of the state and Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling districts of West Bengal in 2016 is interesting considering there are 10,000 to 14,000 leopards with many living in close vicinity of humans leading to increase in their conflict with humans.

The two states were selected as they reported a high number of leopards and human casualties every year. “In Pauri, leopards are predating on humans. But, in West Bengal they are provoked which means that unless humans trespass their habitat, they are not harmed,” said Dipanjan Naha, the principal investigator of the project at WII while talking to Hindustan Times.

In Uttrakhand, over 600 people have been killed and 3,100 have been injured in leopard attacks since the formation of the state in the year 2000. In West Bengal, the number is higher as per the study.

The two districts of West Bengal reported an average of 70 deaths and injuries yearly where as it is 15 deaths and injuries in Pauri. In Uttrakhand, over 150 leopards have been declared man-eaters since state formation of which nearly 40 were captured and about the same numbers were shot dead.

The findings were shared at a national seminar on wildlife in Dehradun in September 2017. The research that will conclude in 2019 will also provide recommendations to both the state governments for mitigating the conflict.

“Declaring man-eater is not a long-term solution to the conflict in Uttrakhand. If one man-eater is eliminated, the other takes its place,” the WII official said. (The Times of India & Hindustan Times)

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