The months of April and May— the time for sugarcane cutting— witness a higher number of deaths caused by man-animal conflicts in Junnar area, say forest officials.
While in April-May of 2014-2015, one person died in a leopard attack, four such deaths were reported from different villages of Junnar in April-May of 2015-2016.
On April 16 this year, the first such case was registered in which a 55-year-old woman was killed by two leopards at Mangrul. “Leopards have been around in this area for years. Though leopard sightings and incidents of man-animal conflicts are reported throughout the year, the frequency increases particularly in April -May. The reason is that it is the peak time for sugarcane harvesting, which disturbs the habitat of the leopards. Nearly 99 per cent of leopards prefer sugarcane fields as their habitat,” says V A Dhokte, deputy conservator of forests, Junnar Forest Division.
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Dhokte says that just two days ago, an injured leopard cub was found in the sugarcane field by a farmer. “After the sugarcane cutting, the farmer had lit fire on the farm, which is a general practice. While the mother leopard ran away, the cub couldn’t run. The cub sustained some burn injuries. It was taken to Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, given medication and was reunited with his mother the same day,” Dhokte says.
In order to check such incidents, the Forest Department has installed cages in various villages across Junnar. In the villages of Mangrul and Pargaon, where a significant number of leopards were sighted, three cages had already installed. After the recent death of the woman, seven more cages have been installed in the two villages.
Veterinary officer Dr Ajay Deshmukh, who is based at Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, says that while the general belief is that leopards are entering human territory because forests are getting destroyed, it isn’t the case in Junnar. “Every time we leave a leopard in a forest area, he comes back to the fields. The behaviour pattern of leopards has changed over the past decade or so. In Junnar, they regard sugarcane fields as their territory. Female leopards are giving birth here, cubs are growing here. They prefer it for various reasons —it provides a great place to hide, there’s easy availability of water and food. Unlike in forests, where leopards struggle for a prey, they can easily find a goat or a dog as a feed here,” he says.
Sugarcane, he said, is a one-year crop and it isn’t that all the sugarcane fields are cleared in April-May. “Fields that have crop less than a year old don’t get cleared. The leopards shift to these fields from areas that are cleared. During this shift, incidents of man-animal conflicts take place,” says Deshmukh.