Following is a press release issued by Wild Orissa on the killing of a leopard that had strayed out of the Chandaka-Dampada Wildlife Sanctuary near Bhubaneswar on 13th January 2011.
Ref. No.: WO/HQRS/CDSLCON/2011
On the morning of 13th January 2011, a male leopard was beaten to death by a mob of villagers at Gandarpur on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. The incident took place a little after 8.00am. Around 12.00pm, news was received that a second leopard had been sighted in the area and villagers were in hot pursuit of it. Following these reports members of Wild Orissa, Aditya Panda and Diptiranjan Patra, visited the spot in order to obtain a first hand analysis of the situation. They visited the site and interacted with locals and forest officials, including DFO, City Forest Division, JK Dash.
It was gathered that on the morning of 13th January, one Bijay Rout, 30, noticed some movement in a bush while he was out to answer the call of nature. He walked up to it and surprised a leopard that attacked him. Hearing his screams, a group of boys playing cricket nearby came to his rescue and in the commotion the leopard let go and tried to hide. Soon a mob gathered and closed in on the leopard, leaving it with no route to escape through. They started pelting it with stones and the panic stricken animal attacked a 15-year-old boy. Soon the entire mob descended on the animal and clubbed it to death with cricket bats, wickets, sticks, etc. They then proceeded to parade the dead body through the village and even tied it up to a building on display. They refused to hand it over to forest department demanding compensation for the victims. Compensation was promised by the forest department, the body was reclaimed and was sent to the veterinary college at OUAT for post mortem.
It is important to note here that forest staff was already present at the site before the animal was attacked and its pleading failed to stop the villagers. The DFO stated that had the villagers given just another fifteen minutes, the leopard could have been tranquillised and safely removed from the site by a team that was already on its way from Nandankanan Zoo, only 10kms away. What is most disturbing is an allegation that a cameraperson of a leading local Oriya news channel had actually incited the villagers into beating the leopard, since he wanted to capture some ‘dramatic’ footage.
When the Wild Orissa team arrived at the site, villagers were on the hunt for a second leopard allegedly sighted around noon. It had been sighted near a cowshed and was said to be smaller than the one killed in the morning. The Wild Orissa team noticed what convincingly appeared to be leopard pugmarks near the cowshed. The forest staff also claimed that more pugmarks were around, but that the constant movement of crowds had destroyed them. Around 5.00pm, some women claimed that they had seen a leopard running away into the fields. This was confirmed to the DFO by a forest guard, who too claimed to have sighted the fleeting leopard. A mob situation began building up again with people gathering bricks and stones to attack the animal, but the forest staff and some good Samaritans among the villagers managed to control the crowd. There was no trace of the leopard anymore after that and the villagers were persuaded to leave it alone and stay indoors. They were advised to not come out until late in the morning and to give the animal ample time to escape at night. Forest and police personnel camped through the night in the village in order to ensure this.
Gandarpur is not traditional leopard habitat. It appears that the leopard/s had most probably strayed out of the Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary, around 10 kms from the village, in desperate search of food into villages on the banks of the Kuakhai River, a distributary of the Mahanadi. The vegetation covered river islands might have given the animal/s cover as the waited until nightfall to pick up the odd goat or dog.
Wild Orissa would like to make the following points and observations from this sad experience:
The persons who killed the animal must be identified and arrested for violating the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. They purposefully instigated the animal to attack, and they did not kill it in “self defence” as they are now claiming. Had they cooperated, it could have easily been possible to save the life of the animal.
The allegation against the local Oriya news channel cameraman must be investigated and exemplary punishment must be given to the person if he is found guilty. Such human-leopard conflict, previously uncommon in Orissa, seems to be on the rise of late. Media should be extremely sensitive in handling such matters.
Wild Orissa would also like to strongly take up the case of the Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary whose neglect has partly been responsible for such an incident. The Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary, once a leopard stronghold, has seen a sharp decline of the big cats over the past decade, as it has with elephants. Wild Orissa insists that the following action points are taken up on priority with respect to conserving the leopard in Chandaka:
This incident shows that Chandaka might still be having a significant number of leopards and it is high time that the sanctuary administration accepts this fact and includes this fact in the sanctuary’s management policy.
Monitoring and patrolling in the sanctuary appears to have become less stringent. Field personnel need to be aware of basic wildlife activity in their beats and share wildlife-related information within sanctuary staff.
Unfortunately over the past five years, the management policy of the sanctuary seems to have completely shifted away from wildlife protection and management to a tourism-centric approach. Funds have been unnecessarily spent on building interpretation centres, children’s parks, digging and re-digging ineffective elephant trenches, furnishing rest houses and watch towers, etc while the basic and most important task of protection has been grossly neglected.
Wildlife poaching especially of cheetal, timber felling, daily collection of hundreds of cycle-loads of firewood, etc. are rampant, as are cattle grazing by the villagers inside the sanctuary. Prey species for the leopard, which includes herbivores like chital, barking deer and wild boar have been severely depleted due to uncontrolled poaching. Even usually commonly and prolifically seen herbivores like barking deer and wild boar are rarely seen in Chandaka. The shortage of prey base makes the habitat increasingly unsuitable for leopards to live and breed in and causes them to stray out to nearby inhabited areas in search of easy pickings like dogs and goats. This ends up in conflict situations as happened in Gandarpur.
The habitat in the sanctuary is getting severely degraded due to invasion of weeds, further reducing its capacity to sustain viable numbers of herbivores. This could also been a major reason for most of the sanctuary’s elephants abandoning it and desperately moving out in search of fodder.
There is tremendous anthropogenic pressure both from within and from outside the sanctuary. Rapidly expanding Bhubaneswar, upcoming residential and commercial complexes, engineering colleges and other construction have blatantly violated laws such as the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 and the orders of the Apex Court that prohibits any permanent construction within 10kms of the boundary of a Protected Area.
Chandaka is already under severe stress for being an islanded, fragmented patch of forest caught inside the relentlessly expanding urban conglomerate of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar-Khurda. The least that needs to be done is to ensure that within the boundaries of this tiny 190 sq km sanctuary wildlife can live peacefully. Given proper protection, Chandaka can hold a healthy number of leopards. Corridors with the forests of Athgarh can be revived. Even its last remaining elephants—though they do not have any long-term future in the sanctuary’s current state, as they are too small in number to have a genetically viable future—need to have a fodder-rich, peaceful habitat in which to live in. Good protection and a well-managed habitat are by themselves half the solution to the tragic human-wildlife conflict that this region has seen so much—first with elephants, and now, with leopards.
Aditya Chandra Panda
Head, Chandaka-Dampara Conservation Programme