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More killed by beasts than militants in J&K

Srinagar, March 17: As one conflict wanes in Jammu and Kashmir, another is getting deadlier.

For the first time in decades, the state is witnessing more clashes between men and wild animals than between militants and security forces.

The casualties on either side are mounting, with the state losing more than twice as many civilians to animals than to militancy last year. The number of animals killed is also rising.

State forest minister Mian Altaf said 37 civilians were killed and hundreds injured by animals in 2013. “Nine black bears, eight leopards and three wild wolves also died,” he said.

In contrast, the civilian toll in militancy — killings by militants or in encounters — totalled 15 last year. “In the last two years in fact, a total of 30 civilians have died in militancy related incidents,” a police officer said.

The officer clarified that killings by security forces while dealing with law and order was not included in the list. “Additionally, a total of 97 militants and 54 security force personnel died last year,” he said.

What makes the man-animal conflict look bigger is the waning militancy in the state. In 1996, the civilian toll stood at 1,424, the highest in the two-and-a-half-decade-old militancy.

A forest officer said only a handful of civilians and wild animals would die until a few years back, attributing the rising count to the growing population of bears and leopards.

“This has caused much scare among people and, in certain places, children fear to venture out. Many victims have been children,” said the officer.

One reason for the rise in animal numbers is the decades-old ban on hunting in the state. “It appears there is a manifold increase in their numbers, although we haven’t done any census,” the officer said.

“Earlier, many hunters or even villagers who had two-bore guns would bring down their targets. The villagers are now scared to do it because of pressure from the police, our department or even the media.”

However, there are incidents where villagers kill animals with lathis and stones, or they fall to the bullets of the police and other forces, he said.

“Our priority is to ensure that the lives of animals are saved and our teams are equipped with tranquillising guns and nets to trap them,” the officer said.

He said militancy had also kept hunters in check. Most people with hunting rifles were forced by the authorities to hand over their weapons to the police after militancy began in 1989.

In recent months, the authorities have taken steps to minimise casualties in animal attacks by setting up control rooms and distributing leaflets urging precaution. The ex-gratia for victims of conflict has been raised to Rs 3 lakh.