February 21 morning the cellphone of Muhammad Mudasir Bhat, incharge Wildlife Control Room Shopian buzzed. A resident of the Memender village in a panicky voice informed him that a leopard had strayed into their habitation.
Within five minutes, Bhat readied his team of 10 to 15 members. Equipped with nets and tranquiliser guns, the team showed up in the village within half an hour. The team used the public address system to inform people not to step out of their homes.
"We encircled the house where the leopard had taken refuge and one of the team members carrying a tranquiliser gun shot a dart towards it," Bhat said. "Suddenly, the residents piled out of their homes and began yelling and hurling stones at the leopard."
The leopard reacted by jumping out of the house and attacking one of Bhat's team members and two locals, leaving them injured.
Bhat said that the official had been part of such rescue operations for around 30 years but it was for the first time that he had been injured.
He said that the mob provoked the leopard into attacking them.
After struggling for nine hours, the team was able to capture the leopard that was later released into the wild. "In most of such cases, people create hurdles in the rescue operations, putting themselves and the rescue teams at risk," Bhat said. He said that since 2019, he was part of at least 100 to 150 rescue operations in the district. "Unfortunately, people in most of the cases create chaos, prompting animals to attack them," Bhat said.
Since the onset of winters, many incidents of wildcats straying into the local habitation have been reported from Shopian division, which comprises Shopian and Pulwama districts. Wildlife Warden Shopian division, Intesar Suhail told Greater Kashmir that since October 2020 at least 102 captures, rescues or driving back wild animals to their habitats had been done.
"During this period, many instances of man-animal conflicts were also recorded," he said. Suhail said while one person was mauled to death by a wild animal, seven others were left injured.
"Of late, three wild animals were also injured by the people in Shopian and Pulwama districts," he said.
Experts said that heavy snowfall and fragmented habitat spur the wild animals to enter human habitations. However, they said that the human provocations spur the wild animals into attacking people.