Leopard attack in Palghar: Forest officials blame 'migrant' big cat

Mar 09, 2016, 08:10 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

After a leopard attacked two people in a village in Palghar, wildlife experts said such incidents usually happen when the animal has been translocated and is not accustomed to the area

After 50-odd years of no leopard sighting in Borichapada tribal hamlet of Palghar district, this big cat was not only seen in the village but it also attacked two tribals. Sources from the Forest Department told mid-day they suspect the blame lies with illegal translocation of animals under political pressure.

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Rajesh Digha will be under observation for a few days
Rajesh Digha will be under observation for a few days

Dadu Digha (45) and his brother Rajesh Digha (40) — from Borichapada tribal hamlet in the Mokhada area of Jawhar subdivision — were attacked while they were working in their field.

The big cat attacked Dadu Digha while he was working in his field
The big cat attacked Dadu Digha while he was working in his field

Forest officials think the animal might have been trapped in Nashik and freed near this area due to political pressure. Sources added that when animals are witnessed near human colonies, local politicians build pressure on the forest department to nab and free these animals in different areas. “We are also surprised by this incident, as this area has not seen any leopard activity in the last 50 years. I personally think that the animal that attacked the villagers might have been captured somewhere else, maybe in Nashik division, because of the political and public pressure and they might have released it here, which is why the attack occurred,” said a forest official.

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Over 30 forest officials have been deployed in the area post the attack
Over 30 forest officials have been deployed in the area post the attack

Expert says
Biologist Dr Vidya Athreya from the Wildlife Conservation Society told mid-day that the random capturing of animals and releasing them at new locations increases chances of human-animal conflict. “Leopards are randomly captured, since people are under this misconception that capturing is a solution and, therefore, immense pressure is put on the Forest Department to set up traps. We have studied that leopards can quietly live close to people and these attacks usually occur near areas where the leopards were recently released as they are unaware of the topography. Therefore, it is important that these arbitrary captures are stopped,” said Athreya.

Moreover, scientists and biologists have been opposing leopard translocation as it gives way to more human-animal conflict. “Capturing them is not a solution because other leopards occupy the area, from where one leopard is removed or the same leopard comes back. African examples show leopards sometimes walk 300 km for as long as a year to come back to their home range. This is okay there, since the human density is extremely low, but in India, even forests have high density of human population,” added Athreya.

mid-day, on its visit to the village yesterday, saw no forest cover or cropland at the site of the attack that is required for the animal to hide during the day.

Victim says
“My brother and I were working our field when suddenly a leopard attacked me from behind. When my brother came to my rescue, the leopard bit him on his left leg and then ran away,” said Dadu Digha. After treatment, Dadu was discharged from hospital but Rajesh will be under observation for two to three days. Another villager saw a leopard in the area in broad daylight on Monday.

FD says
DCF Jawhar, Dr S Shivbala said, “We cannot say if the animal has been released here by some other division. Jumping to such a conclusion would be wrong. The leopard may have come from the nearby Tansa forest or the Igatpuri area.”

Solution awaits approval
To create awareness about this issue, forest officials have started distributing pamphlets. Also, an action plan was drafted by Forest Department to tell people about the standard operating procedures (SOPs) in such a situation but that has been awaiting government clearance for last six months.

“The action plan is about co-ordination between all arms of the administration, including revenue and police. It also talks about better compensation to the injured and more importantly it describes a proactive way of handling the leopard issue rather than how it is now — knee jerk and reactive,” said biologist Dr Vidya Athreya.

Ignore rumours, our leopards were inside: SGNP
While the rumour mill is churning out that the attacking leopard was from Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), the national park authorities refuted the claim and said their 17 leopards have not left the enclosures recently.

Superintendent of SGNP Tiger and Lion Safari and in-charge of Leopard Rescue Centre, Shailesh Deore, said, “We have 17 leopards in our captivity at the rescue centre in SGNP and all of them are here. We have a proper system in place and animal enclosures are properly locked and we count them every day.” More than 30 forest officials have been deployed in the area and two camera traps with four cages have been installed.

“It would be wrong to say that the leopard attacked them deliberately. They were sitting in the field and the animal could have mistaken them for prey,” said a forest official. The villagers said after the attack, the fearful leopard climbed a tree when villagers gathered at the spot and pelted stones at it. “The locals claim to have seen a leopard last night, who looked old and weak. We are verifying this information and trying to trap it,” said Shivbala.

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