As many as 75 villagers from 30 villages of Junnar district are undergoing training that will equip them to deal with the man-animal conflicts in the region.
The Rapid Junnar Rescue Team (RJRT) is a joint initiative of Wildlife SOS and Forest Department Junnar. Some of the villages whose representatives have joined the team include Narayangaon, Ghodegaon, Otur, Dingore, Pimpalgaon, Shirur and Junnar.
“The incidents of leopards entering the villages and cities have been on the rise over the past few years. Many times, in these man-animal conflicts, either the leopard gets killed by people or vice-versa. Before rescuing the animal, the rescue team spends a lot of time convincing the villagers. Hence, we thought of involving the villagers in the task. If the representatives are local people, it’s easier for them to talk to villagers when such a situation (man-animal conflict) occurs. They act as mediators between the forest officials and villagers,” said Dr Ajay Deshmukh, Wildlife SOS veterinary officer based at Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre.
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While the officials started looking for the representatives from each village sometime last year, a team of 75 people was ready by December. In January, the team members were given basic training wherein they were taught many things – how to recognise pugmarks, tools to be used, handling crowd, carrying out rescue without causing stress to the leopard, promptly responding to alert calls of forest officials and Wildlife SOS and updating them, use of cages/nets, differentiating between cubs of jungle cat, hyena, wolf with that of a leopard and so on. Those who underwent training were given torches, sticks, whistles as well as uniforms.
“Though the basic training is finished, the team members are learning a lot with each rescue operation because every operation is different and requires different skills. For instance, rescuing a leopard sitting on a tree is different from rescuing a leopard from a well. If a leopard enters a house or kills a person, then we have to deal in a different manner. Besides, whenever we get a rescue call, it takes us some time to respond to the call– even up to an hour. In such cases, if we have trained team members, they can at least begin preliminary work based upon our guidance till we reach the spot,” said Deshmukh.
The RJRT members are also deputed the task of raising awareness programmes in their respective villages. They have been given materials such as audio files, videos and posters, which they use to conduct awareness programmes. “The villagers need to sensitise themselves about such incidents. We have already conducted awareness programmes in some schools and have also organised an exhibition in the village that showcased materials throwing light on ‘dos and don’ts’ when a leopard is sighted in human territory,” added Deshmukh.