GUWAHATI, Sept 27 - While Assam has been at the centre of a raging human-leopard conflict since the 1990s, the issue rarely draws the attention of the media and conservationists alike in the manner the man-elephant conflict does.
The conflict has worsened in the last few years, with a spurt in the killing of leopards by mobs across the State. Although there are government guidelines that mandate exploration of all means for reducing the conflict, leopards continue to be exterminated in a routine manner.
These issues came up for discussion at a recent meeting of conservationists and forest officials for the launch of an initiative �Living with Leopards� at the Assam State Zoo in the city.
�A census of the leopard in the State is needed to ascertain its present status. Wildlife protection should not be solely the responsibility of the wildlife division of the forest department, the territorial division should also share equal responsibility within its jurisdiction,� Mohan Chandra Malakar, retired PCCF (Wildlife), Assam, said and called for strict guidelines and implementation on the issue.
�Living with Leopards� is being envisaged as a programme through education and outreach on man-animal co-existence in the urban landscape of Guwahati.
�Its objective is to build capacity for addressing the problem and to follow a policy of co-existence by ensuring safety of humans and survival of the species for which we invite the civil and police administrations to support this initiative,� Mubina Akhtar, journalist and conservationist, said.
According to conservationists, with a depletion in the small prey base of leopards � mainly due to habitat destruction � the leopard has developed a tendency to prey more on domestic cattle, dogs, and other livestock. This has led to a reduction in the tolerance levels of people towards the animal, leading to its killing.
�The intolerance level of the masses forced many of the animals to land in captivity. We firmly believe that translocation is simply not the ultimate solution to this crisis. Proper education among the masses with intense awareness campaigns for protection of the species is the key for a sustainable policy of co-existence among other long-term measures,� she added.
Earlier, opening the discussion, Anupam Sarmah from WWF-India said that while there are rapid response units in wildlife divisions, their functioning has been marred by manpower and logistics constraints.
�On the other hand, the response system needs to be upgraded and better equipped to deal with the growing incidence of straying wildlife,� he said, adding that the �Living with Leopards� initiative in Kamrup district supported by WWF-India would work on outreach and education towards reducing the crisis.
Voicing concern over the growing magnitude of the human-leopard conflict in recent years in the capital city, Moloy Barua, president of Early Birds, said that it is very important to identify the key leopard habitats and the forest department should immediately demarcate those areas.
The meeting that was attended by the DFO, Guwahati Wildlife Division Pradipta Baruah, DFO Assam State Zoo Tejas Mariswamy, ACF AK Choudhury, range officers Mukul Tamuly, Diganta Das and Hemanta Talukdar, besides researchers and members of civil society groups, discussed at length the initiatives to be undertaken through the programme after sharing knowledge on conflicts and conservation efforts, policies, and potential collaborative solutions.
City Police ACP Bidyut Das Boro called for coordination of the project with citizen committees under each police station of the vulnerable areas for better results.
Sharing his experiences, veterinarian and FRO, Assam State Zoo, Dr Bijoy Gogoi stressed compilation of some �dos� and �don�ts� for the masses during such incidents.
Wildlife activists Jayanta Kumar Das, Mridul Bora and journalist Chandan Kumar Duarah stressed the need for round-the-clock rescue units for such incidents, toll-free numbers for help with forest and coordination of police and civil administration during wildlife rescue operations.