In the first half of June, three minor children were killed by a leopard in North Kashmir’s Baramulla district. In the days that followed, the administration ordered that the man-eating leopard be hunted down.
In its order issued, J&K chief wildlife warden Suresh Gupta said: “In exercise of powers, vested in me under subsection 1(a) of the section 11 of Wildlife (protection) Act, 1972 hereby accords the permission in favour of Wildlife warden North Division Kashmir to hunt or cause the said animal to be hunted forthwith after completing the required formalities.”
The decision came after the half-eaten body of a 12-year-old girl, identified as Rutba Manzoor of Bernate village, was recovered from a nearby forest on June 14.
Rutba’s brother, Ishfaq Ahmad, said that the she was with her mother outside their home when a leopard attacked her. He also alleged that the teams which have been deployed in the area are not going into the forests to find the leopard. “They’re sitting on roads and are waiting for leopard to come there,” he said.
“Everybody is scared. Or village was charming before this, but now it just looks dead,” he said. Panic has gripped in the area after three back-to-back incidents. Parents have even taken to escorting their children from place to place.
Apart from Rutba, two other minor boys from the same sub-division lost their lives after falling prey to a roaming leopard.
Shahid Ahmad Ganie, 14, was the second victim of this latest edition of man-wildlife conflict in Baramulla district in less than a half month. He was attacked by a leopard while he had gone behind his house to feed the cattle. His brother was also present.
Shahid’s uncle Bashir Ahmad Ganie said that it was around 4 pm on Sunday, June 12, when the Class 8 student was attacked. He had yelled twice, “Mujhe bachao, mujhe bachao (save me, save me)”. Bashir said it was Shahid’s brother who informed the family after he has heard the cries.
“We started looking for him and found body parts around 3 km away from home. The leopard had eaten parts of him,” Bashir said.
Before Shahid, 13-year-old Sameer Ahmed of Kalsi Chullan was the first victim. Studying in Class 7, Sameer was returning to home after playing the cricket when the leopard attacked him and dragged him away.
Muneer Ahmad, Sameer’s father, said that he saw his son returning to home at about 7.30 pm, from about 30-40 metres. “I went inside house. Ten minutes passed and I was sitting and wondering why he hasn’t came in,” he said. “I asked my daughter to call him. She shouted his name, but got no response.”
“I quickly left home and started looking for him with my neighbours,” he said. But they only found his mauled body.
“My son had to go and he left. This should not happen to other children who go to school,” he added.
Among the rumours swirling, some families believe that the leopards were released in the area. However, wildlife officials say that’s “impossible”.
Though the order to hunt down the man-eating leopard has been given, the permission is only valid for 15 days.
Suresh Kr. Gupta, Chief Wildlife Warden of J&K, said that the period of permission could be extended subject to the situation. When asked how to identify the same leopard, Gupta said that animals like leopard and lions mark territorial boundaries and don’t allow any other animal to enter their space.
He said, “Sometimes the animal is sick or old and when they can’t hunt anything, children become easy prey.”
According to him, cases of human-wildlife conflict have decreased over the past few years. When asked about the deforestation and occupation of forest land as a cause of the issue, Gupta said that these are developmental needs. “It’s common sense that the buffer zones have shrunk – which would naturally have an affect,” he said.
The SDM of Uri told LiveWire, “We are watching the situation closely. Joint teams of wildlife, territorial forest office and Forest Protection Force are stationed there. We have made five groups who have roped in locals as well, and are stationed in different regions of the area to capture the predator.”
“The Wildlife Department has installed five cages and are in the process of installing camera traps also,” he added.
Bhat Yasir is a Kashmir based journalist. He can be reached on Twitter at BhatYasir_