Forest cell in fix over big cat havoc

Jorhat, Feb. 14: The forest department here is in a tizzy over how to deal with the upsurge in leopard depredations in villages near Gibbon wildlife sanctuary on the eastern outskirts of this town.

Such is the fear among residents of the area that this morning, villagers of Chenijan Dulakakhoria prevented forest guards from taking away a cage after a male leopard was trapped in the wee hours. They told forest guards Ranjit Dutta, Motlib Hussain and Tonkeswar Gayan that the cage could only be removed after the four-odd big cats still roaming the area with their cubs were trapped and taken away.

Dutta said another adult male leopard was trapped at almost the same spot a fortnight ago. He said the villagers now wanted all leopards stalking the area and attacking their cattle to be trapped before the cage was finally removed. "The people, while thanking us for trapping the big cat, requested us not to take the cage away as they felt unsafe owing to the presence of other big cats."

Forest personnel usually tie up a goat as bait inside the cage to attract and trap the leopards.

Jorhat divisional forest officer N.K. Malakar said the demand for setting up cages was more on the eastern side of Jorhat town than other areas, as the Gibbon wildlife sanctuary, from which the leopards stray out to nearby tea gardens, lies southeast of the villages. The leopards then stray out of the gardens on seeing cattle in the paddy fields of adjoining villages.

Malakar said all the six cages available with the two ranges of the district were always in the demand, as requests for setting these up to trap leopards were going up in recent times. He said the rise in requests was a positive sign in view of recent incidents of people attacking and killing leopards in different parts of the state.

Three leopards have already been killed this year, two in Upper Assam. Four persons were arrested from a village in Sivasagar district and sent to jail for killing a leopard and mutilating its carcass last month.

On January 20, Assam forest minister Rakibul Hussain issued a directive to all divisional forest officers to file FIRs against anyone who killed or even attacked wildlife. Hussain also instructed the forest officials to file FIRs if they were attacked.

A forest official said a proper study was needed on the leopard-man conflict as trapping of the big cats and their subsequent release in forests was a problem, as most habitats already have enough leopards which pick up fights with the new ones over territory.

Moreover, he said, if the animals were not released somewhere far away from the spot where they were captured, their return always remained a possibility.


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