Monday, April 18, 2011

India's Environment and Forests Ministry Lays Out Man-Leopard Conflict Guidelines

Indian leopard resting

India is home to four major big cats: the tiger, the lion, the leopard, and the snow leopard. Out of the four, the leopard is the most successful of the felines. It's range covers nearly every square-inch of the subcontinent. From forests, to deserts and mountains, this silent and secretive creature is a real role model when it comes to adaptation. It is even said to be found close to human habitations, which has led to various incidents of man-leopard conflicts and has even resulted to some individuals turning into man-eaters. Even with the idea of relocating problem leopards rather than just killing them has led to more conflicts between the animals and people. However, it now appears that this ongoing catastrophe is about to change thanks to a series of guidelines recently introduced by the nation's ministry of environment and forests.

The guidelines state than man-eating leopards should not be released into the wild, and ensure reduction in the risk of people killing every leopard when it ventures into human habitation. In India, the number of leopard attacks have grown over the past ten years. Records show that these ghostly cats have attacked more than 560 people in Uttarakhand, while about 240 people have been attacked in Maharashtra. When leopards enter rural areas, they are usually drawn to the abundance of livestock. However, the number of attacks on people, particularly children, is growing. Some wildlife officials say that this behavior is due to decreasing numbers of natural prey. The guidelines say the best option in dealing with man-eating leopards is euthanasia. But in the case accidental attacks, such as when a leopard follows a person into a house or when a person is in a crouched position, the solutions are different. The guidelines do not recommend trapping the animals and trans-locating them in such cases. According to wildlife biologist Meghna Krishnadas, trans-locating a leopard elsewhere will only take the problem elsewhere. Instead, the guidelines suggest to have certain problem leopards transferred either to zoos or special care facilities. However, they further dictate that an animal should not be returned to the wild after spending more than a month in captivity. They even discourage the idea of releasing cubs that had been reared in captivity, since it would worsen the existing conflict situation. In addition to that, the guidelines also call for response teams specializing in crowd management. Forest officials say that these teams have often encountered crowds with the intention of killing trapped wild animals.

I'm somewhat unsure about how these guidelines will help minimize any chances of man-leopard conflict. At least the idea of crowd management will prevent obstructive people from intentionally killing a problem leopard on sight. In addition to that, I like the sound of transferring problem leopards to special care facilities. But I do not understand why a captive leopard should not be returned to the wild after spending more than a month in rehabilitation. Is it because the action would make the conflict situation worse, or is it because the animal has spent so much time in captivity that it will have lost its natural ability to survive out in the wilderness? The reason is because, in addition to man-leopard conflict, India's leopard population is also under tremendous threat of poaching and wildlife trade. And by simply rehabilitating leopards in captivity without the intention of releasing some into the wild would be like letting the population stay in fragments. These beautiful and widespread cats play a major role in keeping our motherland's ecosystems in balance, especially where there are no lions or tigers. As of now, I can only wait and see as these guidelines will be put to the test, and hopefully will help in protecting both people and leopards from each other.

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