Has the current practice of the forest department — of capturing leopards and translocating them — failed to address the increase in human-leopard conflict as evident in recent months?
The question is doing rounds following the death of 4 persons in leopard attacks in T. Narsipura taluk alone in the last three months including two deaths in the last 48 hours. The forest department has time and again captured leopards even from villages abutting national parks and wildlife sanctuaries and translocated them into distant forests. Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Kumar Pushkar said since April alone around 60 leopards have been captured and translocated from Mysuru circle alone while the figures for the entire State was more than 100 leopards.
Mr. Sanjay Gubbi, conservation biologist said that one of the leopard that was translocated to Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary and which was radio collared had ended up in the T. Narasipur area.
‘’This shows that some of the leopards that have been translocated to Cauvery may have ended up in this area,’’ he added and called for establishment of leopard rescue centres to cater to those captured in emergency or conflict situation.
Mr. Gubbi said their studies showed that between 2009 and 2016, 357 leopards were captured and translocated in Karnataka. Since then many hundreds of leopards have been captured and relocated but the conflict has not stopped but only increased which underscores the futility of the exercise and called for an immediate end to the indiscriminate capture and translocation of leopards.
He said their camera-trap studies in and around Talakadu in T. Narsipura did not show any evidence of leopards but are now making their presence felt in the same region where four humans have been killed in leopard attacks since 3 months.
According to a study conducted by Mr. Gubbi and his team, there were nearly 2,500 leopards across 29 districts in Karnataka but more than 50 per cent of the conflict occurred in Mysuru, Mandya, Hassan, Tumakuru and Ramangara.
The study indicated that these are also the places where leopard habitat have disappeared due to quarrying and mining as a result of which they have shifted to man-made habitats like sugarcane fields, maize fields, plantations. Out of 27,418 revenue villages in the State, human leopard conflicts have occurred in over 700 villages, according to Mr. Gubbi.
He also suggested that a separate wing with dedicated staff and specialised training should be created within the forest department to handle human-animal conflicts.
Calling for new measures to mitigate human-leopard conflict, Mr. Gubbi suggested providing compulsory transportation for students living in conflict zones, provision of suitable lighting with solar lighting in all villages bordering forests and isolated houses in leopard habitats, provision of toilets with water supply to obviate the need for the people to use open spaces for relieving themselves, etc.
Call to rethink denotification of deemed forest
The regular government announcements to ‘capture’ an animal in conflict situation or the ‘’shoot at sight’’ orders issued to placate the local sentiments are ad hoc measures that fails to address crucial issues.
Experts say the increase in conflict situation is also a pointer to certain flawed policies pursued by the government and this includes the dangers of regularising forest encroachment and denotification of deemed forests.
The State government, in May 2022, issued a notification stating that nearly 1.62 lakh hectares of land is being denotified and removed from the class of deemed forest status on the grounds that it does not have more than 50 trees per hectare.
Such denotification will remove shrink the buffer and aggravate conflict situation, according to experts who have called for a rethink on such moves.