Jeremy Page in Delhi
* Towns encroach on big cat territory
* Attacks become more frequent
Two rare leopards have been battered to death and a bounty has been placed on the head of a third, highlighting the growing conflict between humans and endangered wildlife in India.
Residents of the city of Nashik, in the western state of Maharashtra, clubbed one leopard to death with sticks and iron bars after it strayed into a residential area and injured four people on Wednesday.
Local television showed footage of the terrified animal running across a city park and clambering over a boundary wall as dozens of people chased it for more than seven hours. It also showed the leopard mauling forestry officials as they tried to capture it in a net.
A second leopard was beaten to death in the mountainous region of Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday after it injured two people in the Pulwama district, about 50 miles (80km) south of Srinagar, the capital.
In the Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir, local authorities have put a bounty of 10,000 rupees (£125) on the head of a leopard that they say has killed three children within ten days this month. Hundreds of villagers in the area protested at the Government’s failure to respond on Sunday after the leopard dragged its third victim, an eight-year-old girl, from her house.
It is estimated that there are 14,000 leopards, in India. They are protected by law.
Leopards have long been known to attack humans during winter, when they leave their mountain habitats to search for food.
Wildlife experts say that the number of attacks has increased alarmingly in recent years as the Indian economic boom and relentless population growth take their toll of the big cat’s natural environment.
Leopards killed 12 people in Jammu and Kashmir last year and 22 people in Maharashtra in recent years, according to local wildlife experts.
As a result, the animals now face the twin threats of poaching and conflict with humans over living space. Last year 159 leopards were killed by poachers and in the past few weeks ten leopards were reported killed by poaching or conflict with humans.
Belinda Wright, of the WWF, criticised Indian officials in Nashik for failing to capture the leopard without destroying it. “We need to decide if we want our wild animals,” she said.