Monday, January 08, 2007

In one week, seven man-animal conflicts

Indian Express News Service


Ahmedabad, January 7: Degeneration of habitat and loss of prey base is resulting in increasing incidents of man-animal conflict in a state blessed with bountiful wildlife. In the past one week, at least seven incidents have been reported, setting off alarm bells among forest officials and wildlife conservationists.


Close on the heels of a lion getting electrocuted in Junagadh, a young leopard sneaked into a house in Amitnagar area in Vadodara on Sunday morning. Forest officials say it was probably chasing a prey and ended up entering the house. Though it did not harm anyone and took refuge in a bathroom, residents were panicky. While this cat was cooling itself harmlessly in the bathroom, at the same time four young lions were terrorising villagers of Derwan, at the edge of Girnar forest area in Junagadh. The lions first walked through the village roaring and attacked and injured two villagers who suddenly came face-to-face with them. In both the incidents the man-animal conflict occurred because human settlements are not very far from wildlife habitat. And, as human pressure on forests increases, the animals are coming out looking for prey coming face to face with humans. This is the 14th incident since January 2006 involving leopards or lions. Since 1995, 78 people have been killed and 641 injured by leopards. Lions have killed about 22 persons and injured 130 since 1988, according to the Forest Department.


Last week, an adult lion was electrocuted in a field when it came in contact with a live wire left by the owner in Simar village in Jasdhar taluka. Though it is revenue area now, a few years ago, it was prime forest where the lions roamed free. "Lions still roam around in these areas though agriculture is practiced now and there is thick human population in the revenue areas. Lion-man conflict incidents are negligible but this incident also highlights how pressure is building up. Protected areas and forests may have shrunk on the map but the animals know no such boundaries which are leading to increased man-animal conflict. They move around unaware of the traps that humans are setting for them. Animals are dying by falling into blind wells and getting electrocuted,'' says Deputy Conservator of Forest Girnar range S K Mehta.


While shrinking habitat and proximity of human settlements in forest ranges in Junagadh, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts where protected areas, forest reserves and agriculture fields share a thin boundary line, are resulting in lions and leopards ending up in conflict with humans, destruction of prime forest area in Panchmahals is driving out leopards which are found in quite a number here. A few days ago, an eight-year-old girl was killed by a leopard in Panchmahals while a man was attacked by a leopard recently. The degeneration of reserve forest areas around the Pavagadh hill is also forcing leopards to search for prey in the surrounding villages which sometimes result in unexpected forays like the one on Sunday, to the outskirts of big cities. Except in the Gir forest, leopards in all parts of the state are dependent on livestock and foray into villages in search of water and food, which results into man-leopard encounter.


Last year on August 26, a leopard terrorised people on the Bhilka-Sattar road, charging and chasing people on two-wheelers. On July 25, a youth was killed by a lion in Jasapar village in Talala taluka while lions killed a woman in Lathi village near Sutrapada on May 26.


Encroachment of forests and wildlife habitat is not only affecting the big cats; bluebulls commonly known as nilgai, wild boars, and blackbucks are also at a face-off with humans.


Forest officials say, bluebull population has increased to over 60,000 during the last two decades. With disappearance of scrub forest and grassland they started raiding agricultural fields and the problem is worsening in Kutch, Banaskantha, Rajkot, Amreli, Junagadh, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Surendranagar districts. Under pressure from the farmers' lobby, the Forest Department issued licenses to kill some animals in some areas. However, wildlife lovers and conservation activists raised a hue and cry after which the process was suspended, forest officials say.

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