Wildlife warden suspended, private hunters engaged to shoot the man-eaters in Kupwara
Wildlife authorities have suspended a Divisional Forest Officer over an alarming rise in man-animal conflict after predators killed four children. Private hunters have been engaged to eliminate two predators in the Kupwara district in northern Kashmir.
Minister of Forest and Wildlife Mian Altaf Ahmad told The Hindu that Wildlife Warden Abdul Rauf Zargar had been attached for dereliction of duty on Monday as he had failed to cope with the increasing leopard and bear attacks on people in several villagers. Officials believe that the children, killed in Magam, Pazipora, Rishiwari and Rajwar villages in the last three months, had been mauled by one or two man-eaters.
“We have flashed a high alert, set up control rooms at district level, sought help from the Army, police and Forest Protection Force [FPF] and even engaged private hunters to neutralise the man-eater. An awareness campaign has been launched through local newspapers and radio stations,” Mr. Ahmad said.
Shuja Haideri, Wildlife Conservator for Kashmir, has been camping in Kupwara since his appointment on Monday.
Mr. Haideri asserted that a chain of encounters between militants and security forces since August along the LoC could be a major factor behind the unusual migration of the leopard and the Himalayan black bear toward the foothill villages. He counted the seasonal return of the Bakerwal herds from the high-altitude pastures as another reason.
“When the leopards don’t get a lamb or dog or when they get scared due to firing and shelling on the ridge, they move to the fringe in search of food. It’s an annual routine but this year’s firing in the border strip is definitely a major reason of their migration,” he said.
Capacity building deficiencies, lack of logistical requirement and dearth of the trained manpower besides shrinkage of the buffer between the villages and the sanctuaries may also be responsible for the wild animals’ attacks.
On the Minister’s instruction, a team of eight armed guards of the FPF, each wielding a conventional .303 rifle, would be with the wildlife authorities in the next two days. The department itself has neither guns nor trained rangers to take on predators. Joint teams of wildlife and the FPF would fan out in Pazipora Vilgam and other flashpoints to ambush the animal.
Mr. Haideri disclosed to The Hindu that the competent authority had issued “an open permission” under Section 10 of the J&K Wildlife Protection Act of 1978 to eliminate the man-eater. The security forces’ camps and the police had been requested to shoot the man-eater on sight, he said.
The leopard figures in the critical schedule-1 of the State and the Central wildlife protection laws, and also in the top appendix of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. The population of certain carnivorous animals, including leopard and black bear, according to Mr. Ahmad, has increased in the last 25 years of the armed conflict as the licensing procedures became rigorous and the hunters did not venture into the woods.
“We have engaged six private hunters having licensed 12-bore guns. We are roping in imams and sarpanchs to educate the masses about the threat to their life and but still the children are seen everywhere with their cattle or families in the jungle,” Mr. Haideri said.
As many as 186 incidents of leopard and bear attacks have been reported in the valley in the last 10 months. Twelve out of the 15 fatalities have occurred in border districts of Kupwara and Baramulla.