A committee formed by the state forest department had suggested a leopard interface management centre in vulnerable areas of the state to sensitise people and avoid man-animal conflicts. Recently, the world had united in its outrage against the killing of Cecil, the lion, in Zimbabwe and the hanging of a leopard in West Bengal.
The committee recommended that the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) create a centre where animals would be kept behind one-way glass and sensitisation programmes would be carried out. “We want to focus especially on schoolchildren and teach them about the circumstances under which animals are placed in permanent captivity so that they can empathise. This centre would temporarily house the injured captured animals, before they are treated and released. We recommend a one-way viewing glass to be used for the wild animals, so that they are not aware of the presence of humans,” said a member of the committee.
With 24 persons killed and 83 injured by leopards since 2001, Junnar in Pune district has seen one of the highest conflict rates in the state. Maharashtra pays the maximum compensation — Rs 8 lakh — for deaths due to leopard attacks.
In the last two years, an annual loss of about 300 livestock has been reported from the Junnar forest division. In April and May this year, two persons died and two were injured, prompting the state to look for solutions.
Head of Forest Force and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Maharashtra, A K Saxena had earlier this year constituted a committee to decide on standard operation procedures (SOP) to deal with leopards in the territorial areas of Pune district. A list of suggestions was sent to the chief wildlife warden’s office last week. “Protecting human lives is our main aim, but we also want to ensure that the leopards are not harmed. Sensitising people is the best way towards achieving this balance and our SOP works towards that,” said Limaye.
Other suggestions to reduce interactions between leopards and humans, included covering of wells and building wildlife crossing areas across roads and canals.
The committee also proposed increased involvement of trained villagers in rescue operations and providing immediate help to the injured people.
The committee recommended that underpasses and green overbridges be made mandatory while constructing new roads so that leopards do not become road kill. “All metal cages and squeeze cages should be discarded and only fiber glass traps should be in use by December 2015. Squeeze cages cause great stress to the leopards and this could affect its behavior towards humans upon release,” said wildlife biologist Dr Vidya Athreya, one of the committee members.
Once the SOP is approved by the department, forest officials will encourage villagers sleeping outdoors on summer nights to sleep within enclosures made of thorny sticks, chainlink or even mosquito nets.
They will be encouraged to build a secure cattle shed as far away from the house as possible to avoid chance encounters with leopards in search of cattle.
The committee comprised Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife, Pune, Sunil Limaye, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Territorial, Junnar, S Dhokte, Wildlife Veterinarian of the Junnar Leopard Rescue Centre Dr Ajay Deshmukh, besides Athreya.
To make claiming compensation easier for the villagers, the committee suggested that the forest department develop an app to send out SMS to the affected persons, providing a docket number, the amount sanctioned and the dispatch date of the cheque.
E-reporting will help the forest department study the patterns of livestock damage incidents.