The recent cases of leopards attacking small children in Junnar taluka of Pune once again brings to light the problem of man-animal conflict. Experts point out that such incidents have historically occurred during the sugarcane cutting season when the paths of humans and leopards invariably cross.
Due to the presence of five dams in the taluka, sugarcane is a major crop for local farmers. The thick green cover the crop provides also serves as home for leopards. Besides, sugarcane requires minimum attention and once planted farmers do not normally venture into the interior of the plantation. Left undisturbed, the leopards continue with their life surviving on domesticated animals and stray dogs.
Studies have shown that the density of leopards in the sugarcane fields of Junnar is better than that in reserved forests.
However, during the sugarcane cutting season — between January and April — human-animal conflicts increase.
Dr Ajay Deshmukh, a wildlife veterinary officer of the Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, said the incidents of attacks were not incidental but as a result of human beings surprising the animals.
Since 2009, Deshmukh said, there had been only three deaths due to leopard attacks. Last year, there were 12 incidents of animal-human conflict, while this year two have been reported yet. “In both cases, human beings had surprised the animals. We have been conducting awareness camps in areas of high risk, asking people to take certain precautions. When these precautions are taken, incidents do drop,” he said.
The precautions include not venturing into the fields alone at night, travelling in groups, not allowing children to go out after dark or at dawn and keeping animals in enclosed sheds.
“Leopards feed on stray dogs and pigs. Both these animals are attracted by garbage so it is necessary that villages do not dump their garbage,” he said.
Relocating the animals, according to Deshmukh, is not a solution to the problem as other animals would take up the place of the relocated animal. “If you relocate one animal, two will take its place,” he said.
Studies have also shown that attacks tend to increase when animals are relocated. The only solution to the problem, Deshmukh said, was creating awareness.