Friday, November 24, 2006

Fenced in, Kashmir’s leopards, bears stalk villages

HELD JAMMU, Pakistan: A fence along THE Line of Control (LoC) designed to keep out militants is curbing the movement of wild bears and leopards which are now wandering into villages and killing people, officials say.

The animals were until recently able to roam through forests in the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir. But they are unable to penetrate a heavily defended barrier built by India from 2003 to stem guerrilla activity linked to a freedom struggle.

Officials say while the fence has cut the numbers of militants crossing into held Kashmir and of shoot-outs with soldiers, Kashmiris living in isolated hamlets now face an altogether different threat.

“Fencing is one of the reasons that has restricted the trans-border movement of wild animals in the border areas of the state,” Qazi Muhammad Afzal, Kashmir's environment minister, told Reuters. “If people stand divided due to the fence, then so do animals.”

More than a dozen people have been killed so far this year by wild animals -- five in the past month alone -- and scores of others have been injured, wildlife officials say. At the weekend, a man was dragged from his mud house in Baramulla district by a leopard as he slept and a woman was mauled by a black bear in the Kupwara region.

Leopard and Himalayan black bear populations have increased after a ban on hunting was enforced in held Kashmir in 1970, and the loss of pine forests had already increased contact between animals and people.

No comments: