New Delhi, April 18: Leopards suspected to be deliberately attacking humans will be killed and their translocation will be discouraged under Indias first guidelines to manage a vexing human-wild cat conflict.
The guidelines released today by the Union environment and forests ministry are intended to ensure that man-eating leopards are never released into the wild and reduce the risk of crowds killing every leopard trapped after being caught in a human environment.
India does not count its leopard population, but leopard attacks on humans and contacts with leopards appear to have grown over the past decade. In Uttarakhand, leopards have attacked more than 560 people in the past 10 years, while Maharashtra has reported about 240 such attacks — most taking place not in deep forests but in villages and semi-urban areas.
Were not adequately prepared to handle leopard attacks, said environment minister Jairam Ramesh. Managing this conflict will require us to manage crowds (that gather after the leopard is trapped), and to manage the trapped leopards.
While leopards in rural areas have long been known to carry away sheep or dogs, the number of attacks on humans, such as young children, appears to be growing. Some wildlife officials attribute this to dwindling numbers of natural prey.
The new guidelines recommend that leopards trapped after deliberate attacks on humans should never be released into the wild. The preferred option for such man-eating leopards would be euthanasia, the guidelines say.
But accidental attacks — such as when a leopard follows a dog into a house and attacks people or when a leopard attacks a person crouching in foliage — will be handled differently.
The guidelines recommend no traps in such cases. When a leopard is trapped — either after an accidental attack or after an attack on livestock — it should be released within 10km of the capture site.
Translocations do not work, said Meghna Krishnadas, a wildlife biologist who was part of a group of wildlife experts who helped put together the guidelines. Translocating a leopard from one place to another may only take the problem elsewhere.
The guidelines call for crowd management through response teams trained in advance. Forest officials say response teams have often encountered obstructive crowds that are intent on hurting the trapped animals.
The guidelines recommend transferring certain problem leopards to zoos or special care facilities. An animal that has been kept for more than a month in captivity should not be released back into the wild.
The guidelines also discourage the release of cubs reared in captivity back into the wild. Lifetime care is the only suitable option for such cubs, since their release into the wild even after a long rehabilitation process may only worsen the existing conflict situation.
Wildlife scientists say leopards sometimes live in croplands and tea gardens, but they are not usually inclined to attack people. The mere sighting of a leopard in the neighbourhood of human habitations does not necessarily mean it should be captured.