Monday, October 16, 2006

India: To capture, or to kill, a leopard?

Manjari Mishra
[ 16 Oct, 2006 0046hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

LUCKNOW: How to capture a wounded leopard? Forest officials in Dudhwa/Katarniaghat National Tiger Reserve follow a set drill borrowed straight from the caveman's manual.

All it needs is a couple of bamboo poles, few meters of rope and a lot of brute force to overpower the animal. If it dies during the exercise, it is sheer bad luck.

A local activist from Bahraich, Jitendra Chaturvedi provided TOI with a CD that shows the operation catch a leopard, as carried out at village Anandnagar, 15 km off Katarniaghat Tiger Reserve.

The 40-minute account shot on May 20, 2006, highlights the brutality and callousness shown by forest guards while handling the big cat which was caught alive by the locals.

The visuals clearly show two forest guards pinning down the leopard, all tied up by the villagers, by pressing down a bamboo upon its neck from both ends. The action was meant to immobilise the animal which probably had fractured its hind legs due to lathi blows received earlier. This lasted full 22 minutes.

Then one sees guards tying its legs and hauling it up on the pole upside down and dumping it on an open Jonga. The trauma obviously proved fatal to the animal which died within two hours.

The incident could have been forgotten but the very next day the department named 24 villagers in the complaint filed in Sujauli police station. "The CD furnished the proof of their innocence and the police decided not to proceed against them,"says Chaturvedi.

This leopard had been stalking the residents of Anandnagar for more than three months and had injured six men and children and attacked dozens of cattle.

"Repeated complaints to the forest officials did not help and when they did nothing to protect the area we decided to deal with it our own safety measures,"says Lakshaman Prasad, a member of the team.

On 20th morning, spotting the leopard, villagers threw "khabarh"(a huge net made of ropes) on it and then hit its
hind limbs.

When the animal fell it was tied down and the ranger's office was informed. "It took them four hours to reach the spot. Moreover, they came unprepared and used the stuff provided by the villagers,"Chaturvedi claimed.

Shocked at the incident, former director of Dudhwa National Park GC Mishra said the guards should have used tranquilising guns.

Pinning it down with a pole was absolutely inhuman. But then, the Tiger Reserve has neither such basic equipment nor trained manpower to operate, he pointed out.

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