Repeated instances of people -- primarily children -- being attacked by leopards in Aarey Colony is a worrying sign that the human-animal conflict is escalating.
It may seem to the casual observer that there is no solution to this problem, but the fact is that both species can co-exist without danger to either, provided certain precautions are taken.
Merely trying to control leopard movements by trapping and relocating leopards is useless and counter-productive. As ecologist Vidya Athreya said, “When a leopard is taken away from an area, another leopard is bound to come and occupy the vacant territory.”
Humans have to learn to live with and around leopards. Wild animals go out of their way to avoid humans. However, Athreya says that leopards are extremely versatile and are able to live in close proximity to humans. People living in leopard territory simply cannot afford to behave as if they are in just another suburb of Mumbai. They have to take certain precautions and make this a way of life.
Numerous instances have shown that leopards prey on creatures that look smaller -- that is little children and those who crouch down, usually to relieve themselves. People must not let children out by themselves, and especially not after dusk. Those who have domestic pets and medium-sized livestock must keep them indoors, particularly after dark.
When children or even adults go to forest areas to relieve themselves after dark, they have to ensure that there is someone nearby standing guard and making warning sounds to keep predators away. A crouching creature is a vulnerable creature.
Probably the most offensive aspect of urban human habitation is the garbage that it generates. This is both unnecessary and avoidable. Garbage attracts stray and feral dogs, who in turn attract preying leopards. Then, any small creature nearby is fair game for the big cat.
People living in leopard territories have been told repeatedly to keep their surroundings free of garbage, and the authorities have to aid them by ensuring regular garbage collection. Provision of street lights and controlling encroachment is also much needed.
If we learn to live in harmony with nature, there is no need for conflict. Education and awareness can solve this problem.
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