THE cane season for Junnar taluka in Pune district is synonymous with increased sighting of leopards as well an increase in the incidents of human-animal conflict. The dense sugarcane fields of Junnar and Akole taluka of Ahmednagar district for long have housed the big cats who have developed a highly complex life cycle living cheek-by-jowl to human beings.
Junnar is back in the news for another human-animal conflict, in which a leopard attacked a woman last month. Since then, despite the best efforts of wildlife officials, leopards remains at large, creating fear in the minds of villagers.
This apart, there have been numerous incidents of the big cat attacking livestock or stray sightings of the animal. Last year, such conflicts had peaked during May-June which had caused panic across the area.
Dr Ajay Deshmukh of the Manikdoh Animal Rescue Center said that although human-animal conflicts are reported throughout the year, they tend to increase between the months of September and April. “Sugar mills start their operations during September and stop in the month of April. As leopards stay in the thick of cane fields they tend to get displaced during such time and as a consequence, sightings and conflict increase,” he said.
Leopards in cane fields are a unique phenomenon in Junnar and neighbouring region, with the big cat developing a new lifestyle. The cane fields gives them cover, while the stray dogs, livestock and other animals act as their food. In fact, researchers have documented how leopards manage to complete their whole lifecycle including giving birth to young ones, just metres away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation with hardly any clue to their human neighbours.
As mentioned by Deshmukh, human-animal conflict tends to rise during the cane crushing season, when the cane is harvested. Disturbance of their habitats is the main reason for the animals coming in conflict of humans. This year, Deshmukh said, numerous steps are taken to ensure such conflicts are avoided.
“We have carried out awareness drives in villages, schools about how to avoid such conflicts. Pamphlets have been distributed as well as cages been put up in areas where such conflicts were reported,” he said. Other than helping to build confidence, these measures, he said, will help in resolving the problem during the peak time.
However the real solution to the problem, Deshmukh said, was to take long term measures which have been recommended by experts. “Construction of toilet blocks to prevent open defecation would help in reducing the problem. Also, it has been suggested that the animal sheds be covered,” he said. Another suggestion which can help in addressing the problem would be setting up of a special monitoring team which would track the movements of the animals through radio collar.