Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Indian minister proposes "leopard safaris"

Babanrao Pachpute floats the idea of 'leopard safari' as conservationists and officials say translocation of animals will kill them

Ranjani Raghavan

Pune, June 4: NEARLY six years after some 65 leopards were packed off from the Junnar Forest Division (JFD) to end the human-leopard conflict, State forest minister Babanrao Pachpute, fresh from a visit to South Africa, has floated a proposal to set up ‘leopard safaris' in Pune and other parts of Maharashtra.

On Friday, Pachpute said the Forest Department proposes to set up the safaris in Thane, Pune, Ahmednagar and Nashik. The minister even suggested procuring leopards from South Africa for the safaris.

While forest department officials in Pune and Nagpur said it had not yet reached them, city wildlife activists have dismissed the minister's proposal as a "bad idea" because leopards are solitary animals. "Instead, what we need is for these leopards to be protected in their own habitats," said a city researcher on the condition of anonymity.

Junnar, which falls northwest of Pune, was rife with the human-leopard conflict. Since official figures are unavailable and city wildlife activists unwilling to go on record, statistics on Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) website said 51 people were attacked between 2001 and 2003, while the Maharashtra Government trapped 103 leopards in the same period.

The website also said "large-scale trapping and an almost complete removal (long distance translocation, captivity or death) of the leopards from the JFD resulted in the decline of conflict after 2002." Nearly 65 adult leopards were evacuated from the JFD and released all over Maharashtra.

Chief conservator of forests Shirish Asthana said they we have approximately 22 leopards at the rescue centre in Manikdoh, Junnar today. Most of these leopards were rescued more than four years ago.

Wildlife activist Vidya Athreya said there might be very, very few leopards in the JFD going by the fact that there has been no man-animal conflict in recent years. "Right now, this conflict exists in Nashik and Ahmednagar," she said. Athreya is also opposed to the idea of procuring leopards from elsewhere.

WSPI said translocation would be detrimental to the conservation of the leopard species. Quoting a research, it said "...22 leopards trapped in the JFD following 2002 were released in far off protected areas in the state and these were marked with microchips. Three of these were recaptured at their new sites of release after human casualties were reported in areas with no prior instances of human-leopard conflict."

Rather than conservation, these leopards had a tendency to turn into man-eaters again once they entered the fringes of the protected territory, defeating the purpose. Besides, trying to translocate these animals could kill them. Some year ago, two leopards were transported from Borivli in Mumbai to Manikdoh in the Junnar taluka in a cage. They were found dead on arrival.


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