The Forest Department has been taking several steps to capture or drive away the leopard that has been frequenting Belagavi city for two weeks now.
It has launched a joint operation with the police and the platoon commander’s wing of the Army to trace or capture the leopard.
The wild animal was first spotted on August 5. Since then, the department has deputed over 200 personnel to comb the golf course and has set up eight cages, and 22 camera traps.
Men with sticks and machetes have tried to clear buses and shrubs. They have burnt crackers and beaten drums to scare away the leopard. Forest staff have search the ground for pug marks. Drone cameras were used to look for prey carcasses.
On Tuesday, infrared stable cameras that can recognise shapes using artificial intelligence were pressed into service. A team, led by drone pilot Jervis Anthony, fixed IRS cameras in vantage positions in the golf course. They explained the technology behind the cameras to Anil Benake, MLA, and senior forest officers.
These are commendable steps, but are not in line with the standard operating procedure prescribed by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, say activists. The SOP applies to both tigers and leopards.
“If the SOP is not followed, it could lead to more serious situations like the leopard running astray into human habitations and getting into human- animal conflict. The district administration should keep this in mind during the operation,” says a wildlife conservation activist.
When asked on Monday if the officers were following the NTCA SOP, Forest Minister Umesh Katti said: “They know that to do and they are doing it”.
The SOP to ‘deal with emergency arising due to straying of tigers in human dominated landscapes’, makes some vital recommendations that have not been followed.
At the outset, the Chief Wildlife Warden should constitute a committee immediately for technical guidance and monitoring on a day-to-day basis. No committee has been formed as yet.
The committee should include a nominee of the Chief Wildlife Warden, a nominee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority, a veterinarian, a representative of a local NGO, and a representative of the local panchayat or urban local body, and a forest officer who is a field director, protected area manager, or Deputy Conservator of Forest.
Secondly, the district administration should impose prohibitory orders under CrPC section 144 in the affected areas. This has not been done.
“In all instances of wild carnivores straying into a human dominated landscape, the district authorities need to ensure law and order by imposing section 144 of the Cr.PC. This is essential to avoid agitation and excited local people surrounding the animal spot which hampers capture operation, leading to serious injuries,” says the SOP.
But officers in Belagavi have not been able to achieve that and the area of operations remains crowded.
The SOP further states that either existing, empanelled, or outside experts should be involved in monitoring of the operations. But third-party experts have not been employed.
The officers are supposed to establish identity of the tiger by comparing camera trap photographs with National Repository of Camera Trap Photographs of Tigers (NRCTPT) or reserve-level photo database to find out the source area of the animal. Forest officials say this is being done at Bengaluru.
Whenever cages with lure animals are set up, the area needs to be kept undisturbed, to allow the wild animal to move freely. This recommendation is far from met, as huge crowds are combing the area where the cages are kept.
The SOP asks officers to ensure unobtrusive guarding of the kill to allow feeding of the carcass (if not close to a human settlement) and to safeguard the wild animal from being poisoned (for revenge killing). This has not been done too.
Officers are supposed to collect recent cattle and livestock depredation or human injury or fatal encounter data, if any, in the area. If it is an area historically prone to such incidences, detailed research work has to be carried out in order to assess the reasons for the frequent tiger emergencies in the area. This question does not arise as there is no case of such conflict.
Other requirements like creating ‘pressure impression pads‘ and coordinating with local authorities have been met.