Friday, April 25, 2008

Increasing number of leopards gives Sakkarbaug Zoo officials a tough time


Increasing number of leopards gives Sakkarbaug Zoo officials a tough time

Ahmedabad Newsline By Hiral Dave

Rajkot, April 24 Sakkarbuag Zoo in Junagadh is one of the country’s oldest and is the leading breeding centre for the Asiatic Lion. But the population of leopards here is on the rise and, in fact, has even outnumbered these lions.

Increasing man-animal conflict in last couple of years has been landing the big cats into cages in such a large number that it is now becoming difficult for the zoo authorities to handle the situation. At present, nearly 30 leopards are inmates of the Sakkarbaug (SKB) Zoo, while the number of Asiatic lions stands at 21.

This year, half a dozen cases of man-leopard conflicts have been reported so far. In 2007, the forest department had caged over 70 leopards from the villages located on the periphery of the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary (GWS). In most cases, forest officials have no option but to send these animals to zoo, as many of these leopards are injured when caught.

“In recent years, the zoo has been receiving leopards that were on prowl in the revenue areas. They are brought here for treatment after sustaining injuries during conflict with villagers. Some of them suffered permanent damage and could not be released back in wild,” said SKB zoo superintendent Y Rana.

He added that some have developed the tendency of wandering in the revenue areas, so they have also been kept at the zoo. “As a result, the zoo is overcrowded with leopards,” he said, adding that though there is a shortage of space, but they have no other option than keeping the wild cat in captive.

While leopard is a solitary big cat, its been hurdled in groups of five to six in small cages of total area less than 300 square meter, with little or no height. These undersized cages are said to be constructed and designed over 100 years ago. The zoo does have big open cages in the safari park for leopards, but its number is restricted to two.

Officials say that shrinking natural habitat coupled with increasing lion and leopard population has led to dispersion of these two big cats outside forest areas. They generally take shelter in sugarcane and mangoes orchid farms for days. “The cats go out in search of food. Leopard, which is an opportunist hunter, prefers to stay in the revenue areas for hunting. This increases chances of conflict between man and leopard,” said Rana.

The leopard population stood at 155 when the first census was done at GWS in 1974. Since then the animal’s population has been registering increase in every census. The number stood at 380 in the last census done in 2005, indicating an increase of 69 since the 2000 census.

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