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Wildlife experts see red over killing of leopards

The recent killing of two leopards in Mandi district on the suspicion of being man-eaters has evoked strong reactions from wildlife conservationists. They have alleged that two leopards were killed by hunters hired by the Forest Department without even identifying the real man-eaters. The killing of leopards on the suspicion of being man-eaters is a criminal offence under the Wildlife Protection Act. Leopard is an endangered species and protected under Schedule 1 of the Act that carries punishment up to 10 years for killing it.

Rajeshwar Negi, Member, National Wildlife Advisory Board and national convenor of the Nature Watch India, said the Wildlife Department had totally erred in the killing of leopards. Without even identifying the man-eaters, it hired a hunter who had doubtful credentials and many cases of violation of the Wildlife Protection Act pending against him. He killed two leopards that were protected under Schedule 1 of the Act.

Later, the Forest Minister issued an irresponsible statement that local hunters were being engaged to kill the man-eater leopard and there were many man-eaters in the forest. It seemed that the Department had adopted a free-for-all approach for killing the animal that had been given protection under the Act, added Negi.

Sandeep Jain, Chief Coordinator, Cape India and Special Officer, Wildlife Control Bureau, Union Ministry for Environment and Forests, said a specific procedure had been laid under the Wildlife Protection Act to kill a man-eater leopard. A man-eater leopard should first be properly identified and then declared a man-eater by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state. The killing of a leopard should be resorted only in case all efforts to catch him had been exhausted.

However, in case of Mandi leopards, it seemed that the hunters hired from other states had been given a free hand and they were killing healthy leopards in the forests. Cape India would write to the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests for action against those who were responsible for the killing of two leopards just on the suspicion that they were man-eaters, he said.

Sukdeep Singh Bajwa, a former Wildlife Warden, said leopards were generally very territorial. They had territories extended up to 40 sq km. By killing healthy leopards the danger to people from a man-eater leopard had increased as it could now roam freely in the territories of the killed leopards. It might increase the range of killings of the man-eater leopard that still survived.

He further said the leopards that turned man-eaters were either old or injured and incapable of killing their natural pray in the wild. They could be trapped just near the human habitations. It was very difficult to track them in the forests, he said.

Chief Wildlife Warden, Himachal, AK Gulati said the proper scientific method was followed in identifying the man-eater leopard and a permit was issued thereafter. He, however, failed to explain as to how two other leopards were killed when the man-eater leopard had been properly identified.

The Tribune (26-08-2013)