GUWAHATI, March 25 � In what exemplifies rampant destruction of the city�s forested hills and brutal public retaliation to straying wildlife, a leopard was cruelly beaten to death by a mob at Adamgiri-Garobasti near Gotanagar this evening.
Five persons were injured in the attack by the panicked leopard.
The injured have been admitted to the Guwahati Medical College Hospital.
This is the second leopard to have been killed by people in the city.
Forest sources said that some local people informed the department about the presence of several leopards �presumably a mother with cubs � around 4.45 pm. �However, there was little we could do as hundreds of people armed with sticks and sharp weapons already had cornered the traumatised animal before killing it mercilessly,� a Forest official said.
The mob continued its search for the other leopards but could not succeed in the dark.
The incident once again brings to the fore the unabated encroachment on the city�s hills which are known to shelter varied wildlife, including a sizeable leopard population. With the government authorities looking the other way, the once-dense forest cover in the hills is fast getting replaced by human settlements. The obvious result has been the unprecedented spurt in the number of straying leopards as also other animals.
Conservationists believe that the recent movement for granting of land patta (settlement rights) by various organisations and the Government�s favourable response were leading to more pressure on the hills. Matters have been complicated by the stiff � and even armed � public resistance to eviction drives, with the political parties and different influential organisations lending their weight behind the encroachers.
The incident also exposes the absence of an effective response mechanism on the part of the Forest Department to rescue wildlife in distress.
�The Forest Department has so far failed to put into place a rapid action force to rescue wildlife in distress. All the hills in the city barring one have leopard populations, and it is the responsibility of the department and the administration to prevent human interference in these areas. Leopards usually give birth and rear their cubs under cover of large boulders but recent quarrying activities are causing great disturbance to the animals,� Moloy Baruah of Early Birds said.
Baruah added that as long-term measures, there was no alternative but to protect the forested hills from further destruction and also to clear the encroached forests at the earliest.
Large-scale encroachment apart, the city hills have also witnessed widespread illegal logging and earth-cutting despite there being a ban on both. Conservationists believe that at this rate, the hills will soon become bereft of any forest cover worth the name.
�Encroachment on the reserve forests located in the hills has worsened in the last decade to the extent that very little remains of what was once a vast expanse of jungle sheltering diverse wildlife, the leopard being a most common resident,� a forest official said
While no official up-to-date data is available, according to an official estimate dating back to several years, the total forest cover in the hills was a meagre 13.60 per cent. Today it is bound to be far less � given the ongoing encroachment, illegal logging and earth-cutting on the hills. Of the 7,023 hectares of hill land, 2,642 hectares fall under reserve forests but a major part of even the reserve forests lies destroyed and degraded due to encroachment and tree-felling.