Rajasthan's Jhalana learning to live with leopards
Jaipur : Consider this: India lost 260 leopards in the first six months of this year of which 90 were killed by poachers, says a study of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI). This clearly shows leopards have failed to receive their share in the current conservation narrative.
Over to Jhalana in Rajasthan where a leopard project -- India's first such initiative -- has been launched recently.
Located on the eastern fringe of the state capital Jaipur, the Jhalana forest boasts of nearly 32 leopards roaming in and out of its precincts.
To figure out why leopards are hungry in forest regimes, the Rajasthan Forest Department recently hosted a three-day workshop from Nov 13 and discussed hunger tales of the animal. Experts were invited from Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Maharashtra as the leopard, also called as the spotted cat, has been making news mostly in these regions.
The veterans came up with reasons for teh human-leopard conflict and tried to come up with the best possible ways.
Dr G.V. Reddy, Chief Wildlife Warden of Rajasthan, said 87 per cent of the leopard's diet comprises preys picked up outside forest areas -- mostly villages. The balance in nature had been tilted, he said.
"It is a new challenge to administer leopards who adopt urban settings to survive, for they are adaptive as well as crafty enough to survive in human-dominated areas," Reddy said.
Dr Vidya Athreya, working in Maharashtra on lepard conservation, said these animals usually share space with people and often come face-to-face with them.
Dr H.S. Singh, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forest in Gujarat, stressed that a suitable mechanism has to be put in place because leopards roam mostly outside forest regimes for want of appropriate feed which is less available inside forested areas. "That's why they enter villages to pick up sheep, goat or street dogs," he said.
The veterans also discussed the irony of Jaipur's Jhalana Leopard Project: the animal cannot remain bellyful inside the forest because it does not have the adequate prey base. Driven by hunger, they move out picking up even stray dogs, preferably at night.
Dr Athreya said there are many reasons why leopards should be conserved. "It is for prey-predator balance, for ethical values and for protection of forests. This animal will always remain a blessing in disguise," she argued.
Dr Dharmendra Khandal, a conservation biologist from Ranthambhore, and Harsh Vardhan, a renowned environmentalist from Jaipur, emphasised the need to come up with a statewise leopard plan so that the animal survives better in a diverse ecosystem and different landscapes.
He said in a couple of months forest officers and voluntary agencies will work hand-in-hand to develop a leopard conservation plan.
(Archana Sharma can be contacted at email@example.com)