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Kashmir: Urgent Action Required as Leopards & Bears Threaten Lives

As per the data, from April 2016 to May 2018, the conflict(s) were reported in all 10 districts in the Kashmir Valley. Shopian district reported the most incidents, 39% of sightings, with Kupwara and Anantnag following at 32% and 24%, respectively.

By Aiman Fayaz
New Update
Leopard in a cage Kashmir

leopard caught alive by wildlife authorities in Central Kashmir's Budgam district Photo Credit: Bilal Bahadur

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On March 11th, the whole village of Samsan Budgam was in a state of mourning when the lifeless body of nine-year-old Rafia Nisar was found in a nearby area. A few days later, on March 28th, another village in the same district was mourning too, as another girl had gone missing and was later found dead. 

Investigations revealed that both girls had fallen victim to fatal animal attacks, particularly leopards. These incidents occurred close to their homes. This was not an isolated occurrence, as the leopard had previously claimed the lives of two other girls and one boy, all minors, within the district. After the locals agitated, the wildlife officials shot the leopard dead, as they were not able to control the predator.

In a detailed story, Groundreport has earlier raised concerns about wild animals, mostly, leopards and black bears.  According to a report published by Mongabay, the Department of Wildlife Protection Jammu & Kashmir estimates, 264 human deaths were caused by wild animals in Kashmir over approximately 18 years from 2006 to March 2024, with 3,164 people having sustained injuries. The data reveals an upward trend over the past five years. During 2020-21, there were five human deaths, which doubled to 10 in 2021-22, and then to 14 and 16 in the subsequent two years. Similarly, the number of injuries rose from 87 to 89 between 2020-21 and 2021-22. Then, it went down to 65 in 2022-23 and sharply increased to 181 in 2023-24.

As per the data collected from April 2016 to May 2018, the conflict(s) were reported in all 10 districts in the Kashmir Valley. Shopian district reported the most incidents, accounting for 39% of sightings, with Kupwara and Anantnag following at 32% and 24% respectively. As per the same study, habitat destruction and food unavailability came to be the reasons for the increase in human-animal encounters in Kashmir. 

Bears and Leopards: The most common Predators 

Recently, a viral video captured an encounter in Central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. In the video, a wildlife official was seen fighting the leopard. During the struggle, the official injured his hands severely. Later, wildlife authorities tranquillised and captured the leopard. By then, the leopard had already injured five people – two women and three wildlife officials. Similar stories have surfaced from different areas of Kashmir.

"It's not a surprise for the residents anymore; we encounter these animals quite often. There was a time when it used to be breaking news that a leopard was being spotted in Srinagar district, but now it's no surprise," said Ali Mohammed, a resident of Malla Bagh Srinagar.

As per the advisories, precautionary measures should be taken before venturing out in the dark. The announcements in mosques, and through WhatsApp Groups, urging residents to stay indoors, have become increasingly common in Srinagar. On the other hand, locals are growing increasingly frustrated with authorities' indifference to the conflict. However, Fida Hussain, an official from the Wildlife Department told Ground Report about the increasing number of calls his department has received regarding wildlife sightings, particularly black bears in Srinagar and the outskirts. According to Hussain, 70 to 80 per cent of these calls were about leopards, but when teams were dispatched to investigate, it was a case of misidentification. 

"Our team collects evidence then examination begins by checking paw prints and other signs to determine the true nature of the animal," Hussain explained. "In many cases, it wasn't a leopard but a smaller wild cat, which can create unnecessary panic.” 

Rescuing and retaliation killings of animals

Amir Dar, a wildlife rescuer, explained the careful process involved when a wild animal is spotted near human settlements. “The priority is to safely guide the animal back to its natural habitat without causing any harm. This is particularly common with black bears, who often wander into orchards from nearby forests in search of food.”

However, only some situations can be resolved with a simple redirection. “If the animal is stuck or poses a risk due to its proximity to human habitation, we execute a different approach. We use tranquilisers to sedate the animal or set up a cage with bait to capture it. Once the animal is secure, the team releases it back into the nearest forest that ensures its safe return to the wild.’’

“While these encounters can be dangerous for humans, it's the wild animals that often bear the brunt of the conflict. In the past, such situations frequently ended in retaliatory killings, with communities taking matters into their own hands. But there's been a significant shift over the last 15 to 20 years." said Amir. 

Capturing bear human animal kashmir
A bear caught alive by wild life officials in Srinagar Peripheries. Photo Credit : Bilal Bahadur

Spaces created by Humans 

According to Intisaar Suhail, a wildlife warden and researcher, similar incidents have happened in Mumbai: a metropolitan city near Sanjay Gandhi National Park. There have been instances of leopards inside apartments and taking the pet dogs. So, they have only two basic requirements, food and cover. These wild animals live in the close vicinity of human habitation as people have created pseudo forests in the form of orchards and community plantations. When summers arrive, the vegetation is denser, the grass grows and it provides additional cover to these animals. 

“These predators cannot differentiate between a real forest and a pseudo forest. Therefore, they appear in a place which is close to humans. To make things better, we need to find ways for people and animals to share the land without hurting each other,” said Suhail.

He added, “The leopards find the best place to mate and give birth to cubs in these pseudo habitats. Here, they do not have to worry about the food… which is the main cause of leopard attacks in places close to the city.”

Prey base of these animals

Leopards are extremely adaptable animals, and capable of adjusting to a variety of environments and food sources. In their natural forest habitats, they hunt a range of prey, from small rodents to larger animals like deer and their fawns. However, as human settlements expanded into or near these forests, the leopard's hunting grounds changed which led them to search for food in areas where humans live.

Rashid Naqash, a Regional Wildlife Warden in Kashmir said 

“One of the most common prey in urban and semi-urban areas is stray dogs. Stray dogs are widespread. They often travel in packs and are generally easier for leopards to find and capture compared to forest prey. Because stray dogs are readily available, leopards start wandering urban and semi-urban areas more often. This shift in their behaviour is the reason for human-wildlife interactions.”

catching the bear after tranquilizing
Wild Life Officials on their way to catch the bear after tranquilizing it. Photo Credit: Bilal Bahadur

In the past, there used to be a clear separation between dense forests and agricultural areas, with buffer zones or less-dense that provided a natural boundary to the regions. However, recent agricultural practices have changed this landscape dramatically. Jammu and Kashmir’s forests occupy almost 20 per cent of the state’s total land area. The state’s 15,912-sq-km protected area network includes 35 conservation reserves, 14 wildlife sanctuaries, and 5 national parks. In the last few decades, this landscape has been rapidly changing. A rising population has pushed people closer to the forests. Fringe forests, pastures and grasslands that sheltered large carnivores have been turned into fruit orchards. The cultivation of hybrid plant varieties, which require less fertile soil and water has become common. This shift has led to the replacement of traditional paddy fields with cash crops and orchards. Hence, the barrier vanished. 

While talking to Ground Report, Rashid said 

Paddy fields had a seasonal growth pattern and smaller crop size… Orchards, with their dense and tall trees, often resemble forests. This change created a perfect habitat for wild animals like black bears who find ample food sources among the fruit trees.” 

Expert Solution to Minimize the Human-Animal Conflict

Intisaal Suhail suggested several strategies for reducing human-wildlife conflicts that focused on both bears and leopards. 

“For bears, one solution involves enhancing the food supply within forests to keep bears from venturing into human settlements. This can be achieved by planting fruit trees and other food sources in the forests.”

An example of this approach's success is seen in Tral, a village in Kashmir previously prone to bear attacks. And for leopards, the primary focus should be on reducing the number of stray dogs, as they are common prey for leopards in urban and semi-urban areas. He said that municipalities traditionally implemented sterilisation programs or even culled the stray dog population. However, these methods have faced resistance from animal activists. For leopard management, controlling the stray dog population is crucial, as they are common prey. Suhail emphasizes prioritizing human safety and wildlife well-being over dog welfare.

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