Monday, July 23, 2012

Big cats at war: Driven out by lions, leopards attack humans

Big cats at war: Driven out by lions, leopards attack humans

The man-animal conflict at Gir seems to be growing. And it's not just with lions. Incidences of leopard attack on human beings too are increasing. They have more than doubled in the last two years.

The primary reason for this situation is the deserted sugarcane fields on the periphery of the forest, which attract the leopards. However, activists also claim that a certain degree of competition with the king of the jungle, the Asiatic lion, drives the leopard out of the forest in search of prey.

The rule of the forest is that the lion gets the first right of refusal. With the lion population expanding to 411 according to the latest census and the leopard population at 600, the competition is intensifying every passing day.

The year 2011-12 saw six deaths due to attack by leopards as against two in 2010-11. This year, two cases have already been recorded. Officials and activists who have been working in the Junagadh forest range, particularly close to Sasan Gir, insist that the increase in attacks is due to the increase in number of sugarcane fields.

Deputy conservator of forest, Sasan, Gir, Sandeep Kumar insists that there is enough prey base for both the big cats, but concedes that the leopard backs off when the lion stakes claim on a prey. "That is the rule of the jungle, the lion is the king," says the forester who is a keen observer of life in the wild. With the Supreme Court and international wildlife community breathing down the Gujarat forest department's neck on parting with a few lions for Madhya Pradesh, the forest department is hard-selling the ungulate population in the Gir forest region, but the officials are ominously quiet on the multiplying leopard population which competes with the lions for the forest's resources.

Another forest officer, refusing to be quoted, defends the man-animal conflicts claiming most attacks have happened on outsiders — non-residents of the area— and invariably all the victims are somehow associated with the sugarcane business.

"With more people getting into sugarcane farming, the leopards are finding a happy home in these fields. In sugarcane farming, once the crop is planted, the field only needs to be watered. This is done through a canal-like network. This means the field is left undisturbed for close to a year," said an official who closely monitored the developments.

Dinesh Goswami, an activist with Prakruti Nature Club, a local NGO which works for the awareness, interacted with the locals after a few incidents of leopard attack. He claims, "When people eat meat and fish and leave the bones behind, it attracts the leopards. This brings the feline in close contact with humans leading to attacks," said Goswami.

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