The best-hated and the most feared animal in all India, whose only crime — not against the laws of nature, but against the laws of man — was that he had shed human blood, with no object of terrorising man, but only in order that he might live...
– Jim Corbett
While there is a reason for wildlife lovers in the national capital to celebrate as the forest department has confirmed the presence of a leopard around Yamuna Biodiversity Park, there is something one should really worry about. The news confirming the leopard's presence in the capital contradicts the headlines that appeared two days later on 25 November.
A leopard was beaten to death and that too brutally, by the residents of Mandawar village in Gurugram’s Sohna area. The forest department officers who were present on the spot, say, the villagers didn’t allow them to do their job. They took the task on themselves attacking the leopard with stones, sticks, spades and what not. I mean, really!
There is no denying the fact that it attacked eight people in the village, but how does it justify what the villagers did to the leopard? The leopard probably panicked after seeing the crowd and must have reacted; not to harm anyone, but to save herself. Shouldn’t the forest department have tried harder to tranquilise it, especially when they claim to be present on the spot and were fully equipped with tranquiliser, nets and cage?
Isn’t it too early to celebrate the presence of another leopard around the National Capital Region? Are we, the humans, ready for the co-existence?
And, this is neither the first time when a leopard has come out of his habitat nor is it the first that a leopard has been beaten to death by a mob. It is the failure of a system that’s unable to control the situation when such circumstance arises, which eventually leads to loss of lives both the species, whether it’s human or the animal.
On 20 February 2015, news of a leopard death was reported in Usmanpur, the north-east area of Delhi. This was fourth such death in a row and ninth reported in between June 2014 and February 2015.
They say, “A leopard cannot change his spots.” So, is it we humans who need to change? But if people and large carnivores like leopards share a landscape, can coexistence between the two foster?
The crumbling of forests and wildlife habitat close to the cities is apparently becoming a grave reason behind the extermination of the wildlife. Although by and large, the local leopard population tries to steer clear of humans, at times, conflict becomes inevitable either because people simply see a leopard and create a havoc, or, because a leopard starts visiting human settlements in search of goats, cattle and even dogs since its prey is dwindling due to human encroachment.
The human-leopard conflict isn't anything new to us but we generally turn a blind eye to its repercussions. The repercussions do involve us, but it largely affects the leopards. Humans still have a shelter but the leopards, unfortunately, are fast losing it. Besides, we still take pride in mob lynching and poisoning of this otherwise harmless creature.
While Delhi has the Asola Bhati Wildlife Sanctuary in the Aravali hills and Rajasthan has the Sariska Tiger Reserve, the intervening Aravali areas in Haryana have no sanctuary or national park. The Aravali hills adjoining Delhi especially along the Gurugram-Faridabad highway connects Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary with the rest of the patchy jungle belt of Haryana and Rajasthan. It can serve as an important wildlife corridor if conserved. In my opinion, the Aravalis have been the leopards' traditional habitat. There is enough wild prey in the scrub forest. There are ravines too, which make it a perfect area for the leopards to live stealthily.
In November 2014, a fully grown leopard was attempting to pass through the Delhi-Jaipur highway, having very little idea of what was going to transpire. The next few minutes brought with it the most terrible sight when an unidentified speeding vehicle ran over the animal making it lifeless. The tragic fate of leopards had probably just started to unfold.
A month later, an adult male leopard began paying surprise visits to the villagers of Abupur in Ghaziabad district. He was seen wandering around the sugarcane fields keeping terrified villagers at bay. After a few days of sightings, the leopard's dead body was discovered in a sugarcane field near the railway track.
Just a day before that incident another leopard's carcase was found near Pachehra village in Loni, Ghaziabad.
Although any foul play was ruled out by the forest department, the animal had reportedly died because of coming in contact with high-voltage wires laid by someone.
Is it the leopard, which seems to have forgotten its territory and dares to venture in the urban settlements, or, is it the authorities who are unable to put a halt on the rising number of leopard deaths? There isn't a definite answer for the same, but ensuring a safe and rich prey base in leopard corridors is a need of the hour. The fragmented corridors need to be linked so that a larger habitat is available for the leopards giving them fewer chances of straying away from their habitats and ending up being prey to urbanisation.
A leopard probably enters a village in the search of food, especially the stray dogs, which are easy prey for them.
There is a need to educate people especially, the villagers living on the fringes of our Jungles... a leopard only needs a way to go back from where it has come... and being humans, this is a part of our duty. It's high time we realised their importance in the ecosystem.
It's a universal truth that if humans destroy wildlife and its habitat, the leopards will get even closer and that too without any prior notice. We must preserve the leopards by preserving some wilderness around us.
(The author is ex-member of Project Tiger steering committee)