A leopard walks into a Bengaluru school. Pandemonium ensues. Leopard finally gets tranquilised and moved, but not before attacking four people, one of them quite seriously. The miracle was that it was a Sunday so there were no students. Of course if the school had been filled with the usual noise and students, chances are the leopard would have stayed away.
The person attacked most seriously was a biologist. He made several requests to authorities to make the capture of the leopard as easy as possible, both for the sake of the leopard and the forest officials who were on the spot. He asked that an ambulance and a fire engine be called. He asked the police to enforce Section 144 which bans a crowd from gathering, a precaution to keep the peace. He also asked for the swimming pool to be drained so that a groggy leopard would not fall in and drown after being tranquilized. The biologist, Sanjay Gubbi, was there on a request from the forest department to help with the leopard.
A security guard saw the big cat on the premises and raised the alarm a little after 4 am.
None of his requests were followed. Thousands of people gathered. Reporters were there with cameras, and at every turn, the leopard faced down a human. The only happy thing was that the leopard was returned to the Bannerghatta national park. Of course, that is assuming that is where the adult male leopard came from.
What is it about us as a people that when we know a wild animal is on the prowl in our streets or our buildings we actually gather to gawk? Invariably, it leads to the death of the animal because in panic, it attacks, the mob turns violent and the authorities do nothing.
At least 4 officials were injured during the operation.
The leopard-human conflict is the most common man-animal conflict in India and it's growing exponentially as the population grows and development surges. It is absolutely shocking that the Environment Ministry at both the centre and the state level has no established system to deal with this. In areas near forests, especially, it is imperative that there are small teams trained to go in quickly, tranquilise and remove the animal from the urban area before mobs come baying. Invariably, there is a lack of trained staff, transport, equipment and of course, a vet. Usually, by the time all forest officials ,vets etc are notified, it's hours after the animal has been spotted and by then, all hell has broken loose. The lack of coordination between the police and the forest department is also a major problem. It must become mandatory for the local police to establish crowd control. People need to be cleared out until the animal is captured.
The media is equally culpable. There is absolutely no need to be Johnny On The Spot with a camera. This makes the crowd more enthused and the authorities self-conscious. Not to mention endangering one's own safety. In a conflict situation with an animal, a dozen camera people running around only makes things worse. One can always get the shot after the animal is tranquilized. The other deplorable custom is to get shots while the animal comes to and is panicked and enraged in the cage. This causes them to repeatedly slam themselves against the bars on seeing us and the camera, which injures them badly.
After a day-long operation, the animal was tranquilised and captured in the evening.
Dr Vidya Athreya, who has been working on leopards and conflict management and is a world authority on this subject, has stated repeatedly that capturing and moving leopards away from their original territories actually only exacerbates the problem. Firstly, the cat is territorial and has a strong built-in homing signal. This makes him/her head straight back to where they came from. On their journey back, they move through areas filled with people and animals, increasing conflict incidents. Usually, animals in their own area are quite aware of their geography, know who and what to avoid, and are usually unseen and unheard, except for the loss of dogs and the occasional cattle. It's the new animal that does not know what to do. People living in areas with the knowledge that there are big cats around also invariably take basic precautions. A lot of the increased conflict is due to not just to the habitat loss the animals face, but the mismanagement of their capture and release.
What makes India extraordinary is the fact that we still have the leopard, the tiger, the lion. The only country in the world with all three. We still have mega fauna like elephants and bison and rhinos. We are one of 17 mega diverse countries of the world. Our roads, bridges, malls and towers don't make us unique, our wild heritage does. It is time we understood this.(Swati Thiyagarajan is an Environment Editor with NDTV. She is at present writing a book "Born Wild", her show on NDTV, on her experiences with conservation and wildlife both in India and Africa, to be published by Bloomsbury.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.