In the last four years, Junnar region has seen a significant rise in cases of man-leopard conflicts. According to Junnar Forest Department officials, at least one case of man-leopard conflict is reported every 10 days. To highlight the safety measures to avoid such attacks, the department has made a documentary.
Titled ‘Usamadheel Bibtya’ (sugarcane leopard), the film was released last week and has been shot in Junnar region over the last one year. “Through this documentary, we want to raise awareness about the nature of leopards and why they have made sugarcane fields their home. The documentary also aims to apprise the audience about what measures one can take during a man-animal conflict. We have been creating awareness through various mediums, such as brochures, lectures, workshops. But an audio-visual medium has a stronger impact,” said Arujun Mhase, deputy conservator of forest, Junnar Forest Department. Mhase added that though the problem of leopard-animal conflict started from 1999, it has increased in the last four years, with growth of sugarcane farming.
He added that there are various reasons why leopards have left the forests and come near the human settlements.
“Sugarcane fields come across as secure and safe shelters for leopards. They prey on local animals, such as goats, dogs, hare, etc. Also, water is readily available near the fields. Female leopards find the dense sugarcane fields a safe place to give birth. Spotting newborn cubs in sugarcane fields is a common sight for the villagers here,” said Mhase.
“The documentary will come in handy in reaching out to people during awareness programmes. We aim to screen it in schools, colleges, among other organisations. Besides, since the documentary has been converted into a DVD, we will share it with forest officials in Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Nashik, Ahmednagar and Mumbai, which are facing similar cases,” he added.
Sharing excerpts from the documentary, the official discussed the shy nature of a leopard and why it runs away after seeing a human being. “It attacks only when provoked or threatened,” he said.
The documentary, Mhase said, also suggests measures villagers can take to avoid a conflict with the big cat. For instance, while stepping out alone at night, one should intentionally make noise to alert the animal — either by whistling, playing a song on the cellphone, singing a song, or merely carrying a torch. Hearing any sound will alert the animal and it will run away. Children should not be allowed to pass through a secluded area unaccompanied.
The film further advises people to keep their livestock properly locked during the night. “Keep your surroundings clean and ensure that no carcass is lying around. If a leopard is hungry and does not find a prey, it may stray into the nearby area for food. On seeing a leopard, the villagers are advised to inform the forest department or the local police official immediately,” said the official.