HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT | People fearful as leopards spotted in Srinagar suburbs

Rangreth, Rawalpora, Sanat Nagar, Baghi Mehtab inhabitants have sleepless nights Wildlife Deptt sets camera traps, cages to track, capture wild animals from residential areas
Equipped with tranquiliser guns and nets, Teams of Department of Wildlife Protection have been thoroughly searching for the leopards with a span of 10 kilometers
Equipped with tranquiliser guns and nets, Teams of Department of Wildlife Protection have been thoroughly searching for the leopards with a span of 10 kilometersSpecial arrangement

Srinagar: Panic has gripped residents of uptown areas in the summer capital due to the presence of two leopards in these localities for the past several days.

The leopards were first spotted at Rawalpora area situated near Old Airfield. Subsequently, the leopards were last night spotted in adjoining localities including Rangreth, Sanat Nagar, and Baghi Mehtab.

With gradual melting of snow in mountains, the incidents of man-animal conflict have increased in Kashmir. Many wild animals including bears and leopards have entered several residential areas in Kashmir creating panic among inhabitants.

Over the past several years, leopards have been frequently spotted in the areas near Old Airfield and Srinagar International Airport that are situated on a karewa. The area has dense tree cover and vegetation acting as habitat for leopards. Though leopards are mostly found in upper reaches of Kashmir, these wild animals venture to human habitations mostly during winter in search of food.

“I heard barking of dogs and went outside my home at 7.15 pm on Thursday. I was shocked to spot one leopard in front of me which had one stray dog in his mouth around 7.15 pm on Thursday. Other dogs were chasing the leopard. I immediately informed the Police Control Room who advised me to move to a safer place and make announcements in masjids,” said Nawab Mohsin Khan of Malik Bagh area of Rawalpora. 

Due to the fear of these leopards, locals from the last four days have stopped to venture out of their homes in the evenings.

“We have been having sleepless nights. Even the slight sound outside our homes scare us now,” Khan said.

Equipped with tranquiliser guns and nets, Teams of Department of Wildlife Protection have been thoroughly searching for the leopards with a span of 10 kilometers

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Regional Wildlife Warden (Kashmir) Rashid Naqash said efforts were on to capture the leopards.

“Our teams are camping in affected areas. We have spotted pugmarks of leopards at various places and are tracking them. We have also set up camera traps in various areas to detect their movement. Besides, the cages have also been set-up to capture the leopards.”

Elaborating, Naqash said that leopards had adapted the 10-km strip around the Srinagar International Airport.

“These leopards have adapted themselves to live in human dominated areas. They breed and eat there. We can call these urban leopards that have adapted to different environments mainly for easy availability of food, especially stray dogs,” he said.

However, Naqash said people should not panic.

“We have captured around 13 leopards in these areas in the past. People should inform our teams if they spot these leopards. Our teams are equipped with the latest equipment including tranquiliser guns to capture the leopards,” he said.

In 2021, a leopard had killed a four-year girl at Ompora on June 3 in central Kashmir’s Budgam district. The leopard had attacked the girl in the garden of her house and taken her away. Her mutilated body was later recovered from a nearby dense nursery. Following the killing, authorities had declared the leopard man-eater and deputed teams to catch or kill it. The leopard was caught alive at Budgam 11 days after the incident.

Project Head Wildlife SOS J&K, Aaliya Mir said people had been sensitised about the measures to prevent man-animal conflict in these areas.

“These areas are suburban localities dotted with paddy fields and bushy spots where leopards take refuge. We have spotted pugmarks of leopards near the sites where their movement was captured by CCTVs.  Apparently it is a female leopard and her cub,” Aaliya told Greater Kashmir.

Reports said that the leopards have also been spotted at Alamdar Colony Rawalpora, Malik Bagh, Baghi Mehtab, Parraypora, and Narkara.

“We have recorded statements of locals and are gathering other scientific evidence. We are going door-to-door and made WhatsApp group to sensitise people about the measures to prevent contact with the leopards,” Aaliya said.   

The Department of Wildlife Protection and Wildlife SOS issued an advisory to prevent Human-Leopard Conflict.

“Keep your pets inside the house or in an enclosed cage. The same holds true for medium-sized livestock. Do not throw garbage around homes and canteens as it attracts dogs. Leopards come to hunt these dogs, so effective waste disposal is crucial near leopard habitats. Regularly remove bushes and shrubs from around your house to increase visibility and prevent the leopards from hiding there. Keep vigil on construction sites, abandoned buildings or vacant private plots with overgrown bushes for the presence of any wild animals. Do not make noise if a leopard is sighted, as it can cause the animal to panic. Move to safety inside your house,” the advisory states.

On January 29, a pack of rare and elusive Sub species of Himalayan Wolf was spotted near Railway track in Budgam.

"I was on the way to my birding hotspot and found a pack of three Himalayan wolves first. I thought of golden jackals or red foxes. After posting the picture on social platforms experts identified it as a sub-specie of Himalayan Wolf, " said Akhter Ali, a birder from Kashmir.

Over the years, bears and leopards have been frequently spotted in residential areas like Harwan, Brein, Nishat, which fall in the Zabarwan range. The man-animal conflict has become a serious issue in south and north Kashmir due to massive deforestation and increased human interference.

At least 131 instances of human-animal conflict were reported in 2022 in Wildlife Central Division comprising Srinagar, Ganderbal and parts of Pulwama district including Khrew and Pampore. Thirty-five people were injured in these incidents last year, however no death was reported. Seventy-nine animals were rescued that were later released in different wildlife sanctuaries and their habitats during the period.

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