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Call of the wild!

Increasing incidents of human-animal conflict in J&K call for mitigation measures to prevent collateral damage and loss of precious of lives at both ends
12:00 AM Mar 18, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
call of the wild
Mubashir Khan/ GK
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There is no let up in incidents of human-animal conflict in Jammu and Kashmir in the last several years. It seems wild animals have waged a war against humans for destroying their habitat!
Killing of a nine-year-old girl by a leopard at Samsan area in central Kashmir’s Budgam district on March 11 is tragic.

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The incident  points towards disastrous ramifications of the ongoing human-animal conflict. The little girl was attacked and killed by the leopard near her house. It is heart wrenching for parents to see their loved ones ripped apart by wild animals! These are not isolated incidents. There is cause and effect.

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There is a long bloody trail where little ones have fallen prey to wild animals.
A 10-year-old girl was mauled to death by a leopard in Uri area of north Kashmir's Baramulla district on May 22 last year. On August 29 last year, a seven-year-old boy was mauled to death by a leopard at Nesbal area of north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.

He was attacked by the leopard near a nursery; His mutilated body was found after 10 hours at a hillock in the area.  A four-year old girl was taken away and killed by a leopard on September 3 last year in Udhampur district of Jammu.

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In north’s Kashmir Baramulla district, five minors, living near forests, were killed by wild animals in 2022,. As per reports, in the last 18 years, 250 people lost their lives and over 3000 were injured in human-animal conflicts in J&K.

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Why do leopards mostly attack kids? We need to understand what leads to human-animal conflict. What is forcing wild animals to leave their natural habitats and foray into human habitations? Who are the victims and who are the culprits?

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If we look from the perspective of wild animals, especially leopards and bears, their habitat in mountains and forests in J&K has been severely disturbed rather than vandalised in the past over three decades. Plunder of forests coupled with increasing human activities and haphazard development in eco-fragile areas and habitat of wild animals is driving these towards lower areas.

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They have no option but to seek refuge close to human habitations. For wild animals, a prey is a prey; be it an animal or a human! And for humans, wild animals are predators even if they pass through their habitats!

While there have been many human casualties, we have seen how wild animals too have borne the brunt for “infiltrating” into human habitations. Several wild animals too have been burnt, beaten to death and even strangulated for daring to even scare humans. Today two leopards were brutally poached by snare's strangulation at a Balandh village in Udhampur district of Jammu.

Body of a leopard with missing body parts was recovered at Ichgam village of Central Kashmir’s Budgam district on February 12 this year.

On April 3, 2020, a leopard was killed in a village of south Kashmir’s Kulgam district after it attacked and injured several of them.  Last year two leopards were killed in a village in Bijbehara area of south Kashmir’s Anantnag district and Nichama village of Handwara in north Kashmir after these were declared man-eaters. Both these leopards were suspected to have killed two minors.

A mob had killed and burnt a wild bear in Tral area of Pulwama district on November 18, 2006.
The bottom-line is that both human and wild animals are suffering damages. There is a fight for survival.

Movement of wild animals has been hampered due to either closure or disturbances of their traditional corridors in Kashmir’s upper reaches of Kashmir. For economic gains, people in many areas have converted their paddy fields into orchards and the smell of fruit attracts bears into the orchards. Poultry and sheep farms have been set up close to forest areas and these also lead wild animals to venture into human habitations.

It is alarming how leopards foray into Srinagar’s densely human populated areas especially localities around Old Airfield. Over the years, bears and leopards have been frequently spotted in residential areas like Harwan, Brein, Nishat, and Gupkar which fall in the Zabarwan range of mountains.

Due to rapid development, the buffer zone between forests and human habitations is vanishing fast. Wildlife experts too have voiced their concern over the presence of leopards in human habitations.

Project Head Wildlife SOS J&K, Aaliya Mir says wild animals have been seen in urbanised areas and  are localised now. “Leopards take refuge mostly into abandoned places in human habitations. These leopards camouflage themselves and abruptly attack on spotting prey. We have been sensitising people living in vulnerable places about measures to prevent attacks by wild animals.”

The Kerala government last week decided to declare human-animal conflict as a 'state-specific disaster' in order to take swift action in case of wild animal attacks. J&K’s Department of Wildlife Protection has confined itself to issuing advisories to prevent human-animal conflict but it lacks manpower and equipment to act promptly during human-animal conflicts.

The problem of human-animal conflict is enormous and is rapidly growing. There is a tussle for power and space between humans and animals.  They don’t live in harmony anymore as both have intruded into each other’s space. Being surrounded by forests housing wild animals.

The J & K Government and stakeholders need to formulate a comprehensive action plan to deal with rising human-animal conflict incidents.  We have to understand that wild animals have as much right to nature as humans.

Let’s give wild animals their due space and resolve to save their habitat from destruction.  Let’s join hands to end the conflict, at least with the wild animals, and maintain ecological balance.

Arif Shafi Wani is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir

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