Attacked conservationist lucky as leopard is part-blind and toothless

The leopard that had kept 50 Forest Department officials on their toes for the better part of Sunday was missing a tooth and had a bad eye. This could explain the fewer injuries suffered by the officials.

The leopard became the cynosure of all eyes after entering a school in Marathahalli.

After a visit to the Bannerghatta Biological Park rescue centre, Ravi Ralph, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), said, the animal did not have an upper left canine and showed signs of glaucoma (cloudiness impairing vision) in its left eye.

“Because it didn’t have a canine, it couldn’t clutch Sanjay Gubbi (conservationist who was attacked),” said Mr. Ralph.

Forest officials and activists praised Mr. Gubbi’s presence of mind, which perhaps prevented far more grievous injuries. An official said that Mr. Gubbi did not fight back or panic, which explains why the leopard did not go after the jugular.

On Monday, the conservationist was shifted out of the emergency ward and into the ICU of a private hospital in Marathahalli. He is being kept under observation for possible infections. The forest driver, who was attacked, was discharged after getting treatment for gashes in his thigh and waist.

The leopard – estimated to be between 4 and 6 years old – is being kept in a large cage at the rescue centre. “Since it is handicapped, we have decided not to relocate it. We will keep it in a cage at the BBP,” he said.

Camera trapping

The Forest Department has come up with a tangible theory for the sudden appearance of a leopard in Marathahalli. Barely five kilometres away is a series of plantations and fields that connect Gunjur to Sarjapur and Anekal. A storm water drain, lined with bushes, running through these fields towards Vibgyor School would have provided the leopard with the perfect cover. “We are planning to camera trap the area to study leopards there and their movements,” said Mr. Ralph.

Wildlife in Bengaluru

As Bengaluru pushes against the forest, wildlife seems to be pushing back.

Elephants and leopards have been spotted frequently in the fringes of the city – where new layouts and apartments have replaced shrubs and fields – while citizens in core areas have had run-ins with snakes and slender lorises.

In peri-rural areas, elephants are a common visitor. Even now, eight elephants have made their home at Adrangi forest in Nelamangala taluk, which remains one of the fastest growing industrial zones. Nearby, in Doddaballapur, a leopard was trapped barely three months ago after it came out of Ujjani forest.

“We have formed a rapid response team of around 10 officials to monitor these elephants, as their migratory path has become apparent,” said Mahesh Kumar, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Bengaluru Rural), adding that as leopard-related conflicts are ‘yet to reach a critical’ point, the department is yet to form teams to track them.

Among the off-shoots of development are garbage and stray dogs, and this, say officials, is seeing leopards come out of Bannerghatta National Park looking for easy prey. At Hoskote, attacks on spotted deer and blackbucks by stray dogs were seen “thrice” a year.

In the core areas, activists have reported increasing deaths of migratory birds near Siddapura due to the use of glass-laced kite strings. At least eight slender loris’s were either being poached or trapped in the past one year.

“There is major pressure in the areas around Bengaluru and even within. And this stress on the wildlife is leading to higher instances of conflict,” said Ashok Hallur from the Save Tiger First organisation.

Wildlife researcher Ullas Karanth notes that incidents of wildlife conflicts are on the rise. “The Forest Department should establish full-fledged professional animal damage control teams,” he said, adding that there need to be ‘stricter’ control of crowds in cases of conflicts.

Bannerghatta morphing into urban forest

A few decades ago, Borivali National Park was spread across in glorious green on the hills facing the growing city of Bombay. Now, the fence of the park – christened Sanjay Gandhi National Park – lines crowded roads and some of the densely populated suburbs of Mumbai.

For Bannerghatta National Park (BNP) in Bengaluru, this scenario is not too far off. The burgeoning city now touches its fringes, with layouts, resorts and apartment complexes coming up within sight of the 105-sq-km park.

“What has happened in Mumbai is happening here. The city has inched towards Bannerghatta and now we are surrounded on three sides by Bengaluru and related development,” says Sunil Pawar, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bannerghatta National Park.

In the eco-sensitive zones proposal sent to the Centre, the buffer zone for Bannerghatta is 1-km in some parts of the sparsely-populated southern reaches. In the northern reaches close to the State capital, it is just 100m. The centre is yet to approve the proposal.

“We can’t have a wide zone because of practical considerations. There are multiple apartments around, and a lot of development,” said Mr. Pawar.

While there will be negative impacts, the officer points at the positives of having an urban reserve. “This offers immense potential to educate the public about wildlife and the environment,” said Mr. Pawar.

Living with leopards

After a spate of leopard sightings and a few attacks in apartments bordering the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the Forest Department and NGOs had started a campaign – Mumbai for leopards – which roped in Resident Welfare Associations.

“There is a chance to co-exist peacefully. The department went from answering calls to relocate leopards to extending this campaign. The leopards continue to visit these apartments, but there is no conflict,” said Vidya Athreya, a leopard researcher involved in the campaign.

In Bengaluru, the campaign to educate about the possibility of co-existence will target areas around BNP. “By next year, we hope to start an education campaign about leopards in areas near the park,” said Sunil Pawar, Deputy Conservator of Forests, BNP.

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Printable version | Oct 15, 2021 1:06:10 AM |

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