Thursday, March 15, 2012

Man-leopard conflict at Pratapgarh (South Rajasthan)

2004 was one of the difficult year for the inhabitants of this place in the entire year 16-17 leopard attacks took place and 12 people were killed.

Whenever there is a man animal conflict in some area it leads to many fiery debates on social sites, TV channels and newspapers some suggesting humans mistake while some talking about the animals fault. Scientists and field biologists talk about their previous predictions, which they mentioned in their reports. However, on the ground, it is just the forest department and police department by themselves to handle the situation in which also exist the local villagers, local politicians and local media people pressurizing them. In these incidents, sometimes these happenings continue for many weeks, months and years. Uncertainty holds in every heart about the next attack, which may happen at any moment.

Such series of events occurred in tehsil Pratapgarh situated in southern Rajasthan on the border of Madhya Pradesh. Dharmendra Khandal, field biologist Tiger Watch was specially invited to aid in the case. He formed a team with – accomplished photographer Mr Aditya Singh and botanist Mr Amit Kotia. Do not know how much they were able to help in the situation but they did document the events that occurred in the place. I try to take you through their account in this strange situation...

Habitat of the site

The forest department team was working in this area

Every evening the police and forest department would patrol the area

The police department team was patrolling the area with guns as if looking for a wanted dacoit in the area

Local Shikari's were suddenly looked at with respect and appreciation

The crowd would turn agile at slightest discussion and show hostility towards police, forest department and wildlife

There was big activity for edible gum collection from the tree Anogesis letifolia (dhawada tree) in this area. This was the gum resin which was collected over the years by small children in the village, earlier boys would go for the collection but after the leopard attacks, parents started to send girl children. Here too evident gender discrimination can be seen, risking a boys life was not an option....

There were cages set to trap the leopard, in which live bait had to be left each night. The cheapest option were the stray dogs who would be given few bread pieces each evening with that they would happily get inside the cage... With time even these dogs were trained for this duty

Some times they would forget to open these cages and the dogs were left trapped for 48 hours without food or water... here you can see one dog is inside the cage while the other is watching outside

These dogs with time had turned wise they would not bark when they saw a leopard. Experts would suggest to get new dogs periodically but that is not an easy task in the field.

A forest officer narrating a funny story - Earlier they had tied bait of goat but a local villager came in the night to take it away and himself got trapped inside the cage

Tranquilizing expert Sardar Satpal Singh from the forest department, he has rescued many leopards from south Rajasthan when they fall off in the wells or get surrounded in villages etc. He was very annoyed in the field as in spite of many months in the field he was not able to achieve any success in this assignment and the even annoying thing was that in all these days in the field he was fed just potato sabzi for his meals even in that potato had to be searched for...

This is the tip of the dart and you can see how it has a little lock, you can imagine how this would function

The dart

The drugs used for tranquilizing and revival of the animals... Sardar Satpal would say that he was the only man in the team to have drugs which were not in expiry date

New cage was installed before this pooja was performed and incense sticks were lighted and all possible smells were left in it, which should not have happened!

Tiger Watch employee Late Mr. Ramsingh trying to cover the inside with leaves and hide the cage

The village folks would sometimes be seen plotting against the animal but the situation was so tense after the death of the nine kids that any thing to catch the leopard was looked at as help not conspiracy

The man sitting in between is the Thakur of this place, he invited our teams Banaji Aditya Singh for a feast. For this feast which would be two chicken and a bottle of whiskey the Thakur took money from Aditya. When Aditya reached the place he could not see any legs in the chicken and the bottle was there but empty... Only meal awaiting Aditya was the left over scratches in the cooking utensil and the local alcohol which the host had got for himself. The guest were awake until Aditya reached but thereafter showing the left overs they dozed off. Aditya explored two small pieces from the pot and the moment he ate them he was in tears.... He asked the host - Did you feed chilies to kill the chicken? He was wiping his eyes with his hands and thereafter his eyes had chillies in them... the other team members were smiling now that they had a person who would be awake through out the night :)

News came of another attack the Police and Forest department reached, the site was just on the border but in Madhya Pradesh state

This time around the victim was again a girl

Some relative showing the incident spot

One of the victim

The victims was removed from that site but a dead goat was placed there

The dead goat was tied on the same site where the child was killed by the animal

In the night the leopard was indeed there as the dead goat was hidden away half eaten in a bush

The goat was dragged and bought inside the Rajasthan border and they did not have permission to tranquilize or cage the animal by the MP state

If the dead bait was left on the ground some hyena would have consumed it hence it was tied on a tree, half the part was put inside the cage

The leopard did come on the site as the hanging goat was eaten further

The next night again the leopard ate the remaining kill and went inside the cage to eat the remaining goat kill but the cage was too tight and did not fall shut!

The dead stray dog carcass found on the road side were tied on trees

It was a calm and quiet place with peaceful people but big population

New cage was set

This was a wooden cage much lighter and easier to transport

The cage finally proved to be successful

Forest department was in mixed emotions not sure if it was good or bad but the general mood was relaxed and happy

One leopard was caught in Rajasthan side and another was caught in Madhya Pradesh while one leopard was found dead in a suspicious circumstance. After this no incident took place in the area...12 humans lost their lives. The caged leopard is now in Jaipur zoo and is called Gabbar Singh by the zoo keepers...