The deaths of five people within 25 days due to leopard attacks in Jharkhand has created an environment of constant dread and panic for residents in the Palamu Tiger Reserve area and Garhwa district.
The people of about 150 villages in the area limit their movements to their homes as soon as the sun sets, due to the fear of being attacked by the big cat.
Children not attending school due to fear
The attendance of children in schools has seen a major fall due to the panic. The farmers have been forced to seek company whenever they work in their fields.
The Forest Department claims that only one maneating leopard is responsible for the deaths, as opposed to the villagers who believe that there are more.
Wildlife experts have been viewing the matter of leopards turning maneaters as a big concern, since they generally do not attack humans.
This happens only in unfavourable conditions in terms of life and food for the big cats.
Garhwa Southern Forest Division officer Shashi Kumar said that there is only one leopard in the area that has been entering human settlements and attacking the people, as per the information received by him so far.
He added that a campaign was being conducted to tranquilise the big cat and capture it.
Patrolling on in several areas
Hyderabad-based wildlife expert and shooter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, his son Haider Ali Khan, Telangana-based shooter Sampath are patrolling the areas where the animal was reportedly seen.
They said that the last option would be to shoot the leopard if the attempts to trap it fail.
Some 50-60 cameras have been installed to monitor its movements. A team of 50-60 forest workers are engaged in this.
Four cages have been placed in the areas where the leopard is likely to move. Traps have also been laid at some places, but to no avail.
Shafat Ali said that his team spotted the leopard near Barwa village in Ramkanda block of Garhwa district at around 8 p.m. on January 6.
He added that the leopard was about 82 metres away from him, while the tranquiliser gun that he had been carrying had a maximum range of only 30 metres.
The animal soon disappeared into the dense forest.
The pugmarks were later examined to confirm its presence.
The same leopard was sighted near Kushwaha-Barwa village in Bhandaria block of the district.
On December 28, a 12-year-old boy was killed by a leopard around 6 p.m. in Kushwaha village.
Earlier, on December 10, the maneater attacked a 12-year-old girl at Ukamad village in Latehar district.
The second incident took place on December 14, where a 9-year-old child was attacked in Rodo village of Garhwa district.
The third incident occurred in Ranka block on December 19, where a 7-year-old girl died in a leopard attack.
Similarly, in the first week of January, an elderly man was killed in a wild animal attack in Barwadih block under Palamu Tiger Reserve.
The villagers alleged that the leopard attacked the man, whereas the Forest Department claimed that the man was killed by a hyena.
Palamu Tiger Reserve has over 90 leopards
According to the Forest Department, leopards have been sighted several times and caught in the cameras installed for keeping animal count, in Palamu Tiger Reserve spread over 1,026 square kilometres.
The total number of leopards in the reserve is between 90 to 110.
The core area of the reserve is 226 square kilometres, and has more than 250 villages in the entire area.
Kumar Ashish, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Latehar, admitted that activities of the human settlements, inside the reserve area sometimes create uncomfortable conditions for the wildlife.
He said that human interference should be minimum to ensure the preservation of wildlife.
Jharkhand’s Chief Wildlife Warden Shashikar Samanta said that a report had been sought to identify the reasons behind the leopard attacks in Garhwa-Latehar.
He said that all the studies conducted so far showed that increasing encroachment in the area of wild animals was a major reason behind such incidents.
Samanta said that coal mines had been obstructing the routes of the animals.
Wildlife expert Prof DS Srivastava explained that leopards generally are not maneaters.
He apprised that most healthy leopards prefer to hunt in the wild, but attack humans from hiding if they are injured or sick, or if there is a lack of regular prey for them in the wild.
It is generally believed that leopards that have turned maneaters should be immediately removed from the area, which is not a permanent solution to the problem.
The human-animal conflict can be contained only when a genuine attempt is made to understand the reasons responsible for them.