Action plan on the anvil to deal with leopards

A high-powered committee is in the process of finalising an action plan to deal with leopards that are found in areas of human habitation

The Forest department has to frequently rescue leopards found outside protected areas, but there has never been an action plan in place to deal with the issue. Now, the authorities are preparing a plan for dealing with leopards that are found in areas of human habitation.

Experts are of the opinion that current methods to deal with leopards are likely to increase conflict between the animals and humans. File pic
Experts are of the opinion that current methods to deal with leopards are likely to increase conflict between the animals and humans. File pic

The action plan for Maharashtra is awaiting final clearance. The plan focuses on providing help to villagers who have to face loss of livestock due to leopards. Earlier, it was common practice to deal with leopards outside forests by capturing and removing them from areas of human habitation and releasing them into nearby forests.

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This standard response, along with payment of monetary compensation for livestock losses and human deaths, were the main methods of dealing with the presence of leopards.

Conflict management
Experts are of the opinion that current methods are likely to increase conflict between animals and humans. The aim of the proposed action plan, a copy of which is with mid-day, is to focus on eliminating the problems faced by locals due to the presence of animals like leopards.

Committee constituted
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Maharashtra) A K Saxena has constituted a committee under the chairmanship of Chief Conservator of Forests, Education and Training Nitin Kakodkar to bring out Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) for dealing with leopards in Pune district.

The action plan for the rest of Maharashtra will be prepared after the SOPs for Pune district are laid down. The other members of the committee are Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife (Pune) Sunil Limaye, Deputy Conservator of Forests, (Territorial — Junnar) S Dhokte, wildlife veterinarian of the Junnar leopard rescue centre Dr Ajay Deshmukh and biologist Vidya Athreya from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The committee has met on numerous occasions since May 2015 and deliberated on the way forward, ensuring that the focus shifts from reactive mitigation measures to proactive measures where locals are also involved in the process. The expert committee has prepared a broader action plan before SOPs are formulated on specific issues.

Wildlife official says
“The expert committee aimed to increase the understanding of the issues related to leopards in human habitats among different stakeholders. We are looking to empower our staff and the villagers so that issues can be tackled locally and as soon as possible.

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Maharashtra currently pays the highest compensation for human death due to leopards in India (Rs 8 lakh per death). We also recommend an increase in the assistance to people who have been injured due to leopard attacks,” said Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife (Pune), Sunil Limaye. The committee has also recommended that a faster system of reporting livestock loss should be initiated.

“We recommend moving towards local forest department conflict management teams who are trained in effective public relation skills, as well as in managing emergencies related to wildlife. In addition, we propose that the Forest department facilitates increased involvement of the local villagers via a Village Rapid Response Team so that immediate help for the public is at hand, in case of any leopard-related incident,” said biologist Vidya Athreya from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“At the same time, we recommend that wild animal lives also be made safer in human habitats by proposing measures like enclosing open wells and building wildlife crossing areas across roads, canals and other linear structures which cause the mortality of wild animals,” added Athreya.

The proposed action plan
The salient features of the plan are:
>> Large-scale awareness measures
>> Training of Forest staff
>> Formation of Village Rapid Response Teams
>> Setting up of Control Rooms
>> Preventing livestock losses due to leopards
>> Toilet facilities for humans
>> Assisting people in case of grievous injuries due to leopard attacks
>> Improving procedure for livestock compensation
>> The plan also includes E-monitoring of damages and sensitising Livestock Development Officers. A presentation about the same has been given to senior authorities in the government and the action plan — along with the SOPs — is expected to be approved soon.

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