GUWAHATI, Oct 3 - An escalating man-animal conflict has emerged as a major worry for Manas National Park, with the latest fatality of two leopards that were poisoned to death � apparently a case of retaliatory killing for loss of livestock � by a section of locals two weeks back.
The problem stands aggravated by the absence of a buffer zone along the southern boundary of the national park � an area that has witnessed growing livestock populations, especially cattle. With many farmers letting their animals graze inside the protected forests, the situation has triggered a conflict.
�Cattle grazing inside Manas is a big problem. The lack of a buffer zone is worsening the situation. We have arrested two persons in connection with the leopard poisoning cases. Awareness drives are also being undertaken to sensitize the fringe populace,� a forest official said.
The leopard carcasses were found near the Nanke Khagrabari forest beat office. The villages in and around Narayanguri where the leopards were poisoned have a cattle population of around 6,000.
Conservationist Dr Bibhuti Lahkar, who has worked extensively in and around Manas for the past two decades, said that a multi-pronged approach involving proper monitoring of livestock, quick disbursement of compensation in the event of livestock falling prey to predators outside the protected area, and sensitization of fringe dwellers could minimize the conflict.
�If cattle are allowed to enter the protected forests, they are bound to fall prey to tigers and leopards. Compensation can be given only when the predator strays out of the forests and kills livestock. We need to create awareness among the local populace so that cattle are not taken inside the forests for grazing,� he said.
�However, in the event of killing of domestic animals outside the protected forest area, there must be quick payment of compensation, failing which the owners can go for retaliatory killing by poisoning,� he added.
With Manas now leaving its troubled days behind, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of various species. �Manas has a big population of leopards and unlike the tiger, the leopard often uses the fringe territories and even strays out in search of easy prey. This makes for a potent ground for conflict with humans,� the forest official said.
A study conducted a few years back found that the number of both leopards and clouded leopards was increasing in Manas National Park and that their density was comparable to other national parks. The study had also called for long-term monitoring of large carnivores in Manas for securing their long-term survival.
Manas National Park together with Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan to its north forms a large contiguous conservation belt, making it the only landscape in the world with eight co-existing species of wild cats.