Earlier this month, the valley witnessed a heart-wrenching scene of a minor girl mauled by a leopard to death in Budgam. The incident shook the entire valley after her pictures went viral on social media. The girl from Ompora Housing Colony was taken away by the leopard on June 3 from her residence and her body was found the next day in the nearby nursery. Barely two weeks after the incident, the leopard was caught by the wildlife department.
Leopard and bear sightings were reported from many places leaving the populace fearful and terrified. In north Kashmir, loudspeakers were used by the people to caution people about the wild animals.
In a recent incident, twenty-four sheep were mauled to death and four others injured by a leopard in the Rambiallpora Bala area of Kunzar in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district last week.
The leopard, on the loose for quite some time, stormed the sheepcote after breaking the ceiling of the structure.
The human-animal conflict has been increasing in Kashmir. For the last 10 years, 224 people have been killed by wild animals and 2709 people have been injured in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to data, in 2011-12, at least 32 people were killed and 365 were injured, the following year (2012-13) recorded 16 deaths and 305 injuries while in 2013-14, 32 deaths and 369 injuries were reported.
Similarly, in 2014-15, 14 deaths and 240 injuries were reported; 24 deaths and 280 injuries in 2015-16; 22 deaths, 163 injuries in 2016-17; 14 deaths, 166 injuries in 2017-18. The year 2018-19 witnessed 13 deaths and 121 injuries while figures grew to 17 deaths and 156 injuries in 2019-20. As many as ten people were killed while 141 injuries were injured in the conflict in 2020-21, while in 2021-22 (up to June 6 recorded) 10 deaths and 141 injuries have been reported.
From April 2020 to March 2021, 53 wild animals mostly leopards and bears died due to the retaliation after barging into the localities and 117 have been rescued by the wildlife department.
While the department of wildlife protection has been trying to reduce the man-animal conflict to the bare minimum in the Himalayan region, such incidents have surged in the valley.
Let’s discuss the reasons behind the increased human and animal encounters in the last one decade.
Human-wildlife conflict occurs when the need and behavior of wildlife impact negatively on humans or when humans negatively affect the needs of wildlife. These conflicts may result when wild animals damage crops, threaten, kill or injure people and domestic animals. These are critical problems created by the growing rural population in and around wildlife habitats
Loss of Habitat:
What home is to humans, the jungle is to wild animals. From food to shelter, the forests provide all the resources to the wild animals and can be called a perfect example of an ecosystem. When the habitat is lost, naturally, these animals have no option other than to move out of the jungle to look for food especially.
Jammu and Kashmir has 20,194 sq km of forest area which is 47.80% of its geographical area with 55% forest and tree cover, and 43% open forest. What is required is that the government needs to expedite its afforestation drives so that the lost area is restored and the animals will again get their homes to live in and protect themselves from the wrath of humans. Off late, it is good that the government is now mulling planting 80 percent fruit and fodder trees in jungles to help herbivores get their food within the jungles, which in turn will help carnivorous get their prey inside the jungle.
We have seen that forest land has been encroached upon by the people by turning them into orchards and farmlands. Both the locals as well the government is responsible for all the mess. While people encroached upon without any accountability, the government built roads and guest houses.
Roads, rail lines, electric lines, etc pass through the habitat of wild animals. Often wild animals are killed by motorists in the dark of night. In December, Jammu and Kashmir administration released names of over 63,000 individuals who have allegedly benefited from the now-scrapped Roshni Act and accusing them of illegally occupying more than 15,000 hectares of forest land.
In north Kashmir, locals have spotted wild boars, a rare species of wild pigs that used to alien to the valley. Wild boars had not been seen since the 1980s.
Wild pigs have been sighted Uri, Lachipora, Limber, Rafiabad, Rajwar and Balpur. Most often, the non-native species don’t have natural predators in the new area, which results in an increase in their population. These invasive species could move into the human habitations owing to a tremendous increase in the number leading to man-animal conflicts.
Overgrazing in jungles have prompted wild animals to move towards inhabitations. Growing densities in livestock populations can create an overlap of diets and forage competition with wild herbivores, resulting in overgrazing and decline or even local extinction in wild herbivore populations. As such, livestock becomes an important source of prey for predators. The predators have no option other than to move to the localities to hunt for food.