The next time you see a leopard in your town…

If you took the city of Tokyo and turned it upside down and shook it you would be amazed at the animals that fall out: badgers, wolves, boa constrictors, crocodiles, ostriches, baboons, capybaras, wild boars, leopards, manatees, ruminants, in untold numbers. There is no doubt in my mind that feral giraffes and feral hippos have been living in Tokyo for generations without seeing a soul.” 

– Yann Martel, Life of Pi
 




As the horrendous impact of the earthquake that hit Japan last month has shown, “shaking” a city is none too far-fetched an image. But when Martel wrote these lines, his metaphor was perhaps figurative. Either way, there are incidents time and again where you run into leopards, jackals and foxes in open yards, farmhouses and city outskirts. And this troubling reality is reinforced further by the leopard that ventured into the Mysore campus of Infosys in February. 


We are slowly being enlightened to the reality that the description of wild animal doesn’t necessarily suit animals that are confined to forests. Leopards can survive in suburbs and cities by hiding in abandoned buildings and preying on stray dogs. This January, fellow-Ogre Bijoy and friend Rohit saw a leopard that had been run over by a speeding vehicle at dawn on the NICE road on the outskirts of Bangalore city. While the leopards of Mumbai have made headlines repeatedly, Mysore has seen several leopard-man conflicts in recent years. The worst was perhaps in 2008 when, in the presence of police and forest officials, an assembled mob surrounded a leopard that had strayed into the city and beat it to death. Media spread rumours that it was a man-eater, as it had desperately lunged at some of its tormentors with the fury typical of a cornered wild animal. 


The morning of March 8 saw forest officials, police and CISF at the Infosys campus in Mysore after a leopard had been spotted at night in one of the buildings under construction. This time the leopard was tranquilized and subsequently released 90 km away in Nagarahole National Park. Some amateur photographers got too close to the cornered leopard, completely disregarding security warnings. As these heroes attempted to photograph the leopard from close quarters, the cat charged them. On the basis of this incident, media reports announced shriekingly that the leopard had “mauled” the photographer. Mercifully, being amid a more “aware” group of humans, the leopard was not immediately branded a man-eater and bludgeoned to death. 


Leopards are all around, especially in a city like Mysore. Chamundi Hills, a well-known leopard habitat, is being encroached by the city from all directions. Naturally, running short of food, opportunistic leopards will take to the suburbs for easy pickings in stray dogs and livestock. Rarely do we get instances where they attack humans, and when they do, it is either when they are cornered or trying to protect their young. 


The Ministry of Environment and Forests has come up with very elaborate guidelines on how to deal with human-leopard conflict. When there has been no deliberate attack, and no straying into thickly populated area, the manual says it is best to leave the leopard alone, the reason being that the animals may make every effort to keep away from people. But if the leopard ends up in a populated area, there is a chance that human presence can agitate them into acts of desperation. In the rare event of it being a child-lifter or in case of deliberate attacks on humans, the officials are permitted to euthanise the animal in a humane way. 


Apart from this, several steps may be taken to minimize public fury due to such conflicts. The manual provides guidance to build leopard-proof cattle sheds, educate villagers who are compensated for any livestock taken by the animals, and to leave the livestock kill alone to prevent further attacks. Also, providing proper sanitation and waste disposal in villages near forests is important to check pig and stray dog activity as these animals attract leopards. In some villages in the Himalayas, we have noticed dogs with spiked metal collars to deter leopards (the cats are known to kill their prey with a fatal bite to the throat, severing the jugular vein).

A Bhotia dog in Chopta, Uttarakhand is fitted with a spiked metal collar to deter predation by leopards

Man-animal conflicts are a reality we have to live with given the increasing rate of habitat fragmentation. Sighting a leopard near human habitation does not warrant pressing the panic button — it might be a passerby on the lookout for stray dogs. Alert the local wildlife warden rather than raise a public alarm. 


Download this informative manual [PDF/ ZIP] on human-leopard conflicts. You never know when you may need it.

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Text by Sandeep Somasekharan with additional inputs from Bijoy Venugopal
Photographs: Leopard image by Philip MacKenzie/ Stock.xchng; Other images by Bijoy Venugopal


Thanks to Kalyan Varma for the conversations that inspired this post and to Vidya Athreya whom we have never met but whose important work at Project Waghoba we have followed from a distance. The Green Ogre had earlier written about Kalyan’s stirring photo-essay on the capture of a leopard in Valparai. 


Also read Arun Menon‘s account of a suspected leopard presence in Bilikal Rangaswamy Betta.

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