A leopard last month killed a six-year-old boy in Karnataka’s Hassan district. Last week, the appearance of a leopard in Meerut city of UP led to a public outcry, drawing much attention even in the international media. But such incidents are neither particularly uncommon in urban areas nor are they a recent phenomenon in India or abroad. Big carnivores like tigers, leopards, wolves, hyenas, sloth bears, Himalayan black bears, marsh and saltwater crocodiles and large herbivores like elephants have been frequently straying into rural, semi-urban and even urban areas. Saltwater crocodile attacks in Odisha and the Andamans, wolf attacks in eastern UP in the ’90s, depredations by elephants in Bengal, Jharkhand and the Northeast, tiger attacks across India and, last but not the least, leopards straying into cities—all of this has occurred in the past 20 years.
Yet, we have no idea how best to deal with such potentially dangerous situations. In most cases, the response of the authorities is reactive to specific instances. Many of the local officials who are called upon to deal with the animals have no concept of dealing with wildlife. As a result, they can only look on helplessly as some of the animals are beaten to death by the locals. There are also instances of the ministry of environment and forests relaxing its own rules to aggravate the situation. The problem can be addressed only through sustained long-term efforts to protect wildlife habitats and save our natural resources.
It goes without saying that the animals stray into the inhabited areas not out of their own volition, but either in search of food or because of the shrinkage of the forest areas due to the expansion of farmlands and urbanisation. Thus, strict rules have to be enforced to prevent any encroachments in reserve forests. Otherwise, tigers and the smaller cats will go the way of the cheetah.