April 2011: My friend Belinda Wright who heads the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) sent me these two horrific images on Wednesday, March 23, 2011. It seems a leopard mauled three people from the Dhamdhar village in the Adnala Range of the Kalagarh Forest Division in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand.
The presumed culprit was tranquillised and caged and as the cage was being transported to Rathuwadhab, a 400-strong mob intercepted the forest officials and began attacking the caged leopard. Using kerosene they burnt the living animal. A postmortem revealed that it was the wrong leopard. Ten people, including two women, were booked on March 25, 2011 under the Indian Penal Code and the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
The tragedy is that a mob has no name. Individually, the people involved were probably ordinary villagers who love their children and work hard for a living. The problem is that some misguided activists insist that humans and leopards should live cheek by jowl with one another. They are thus forcing policies upon this nation that will see more and larger settlements in the heart of many forests. Dense populations of carnivores can NEVER live in peace with dense populations of humans. Some kind of separation must be created and even then, on the fringes, people must accept that conflicts will take place. Till we understand this, conflagrations such as this will keep wounding us.
When we burn leopards, stone and beat bears (Dachigam, Srinagar), beat tigers to death (around virtually every tiger reserve), shove spears down the throats of leopard cubs (outside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai) we are redefining our relationship with nature... what we do to our natural world today, our natural world will “do” to us (or, worse, our children) tomorrow. Those who imagine they can mine, dam and destroy nature without consequences, or who naively speak of ‘coexistence’ between dangerous carnivores and humans should contemplate the consequences of how their advice is interpreted by planners and developers.
We cannot hope to ELIMINATE human animal conflict, but we can reduce the frequency of conflict. Do we need more punishment for perpetrators of such crimes? Yes. Do we need more space for leopards and policies that prevent humans from stealing land from wildlife? Yes. Do we need a more liberal dose of humility so we can more accurately define our relationship with nature? Yes.
Jennifer Scarlott, Sanctuary’s Director, International Conservation Initiatives, when she saw this image, wrote: “These images are among the most frightening and sorrowful I can possibly imagine. But isn’t there an expression... “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”? There must be healthy buffer areas between humans and most large animals, and “ecosystem farming” so that local people benefit from healthy nature, and can regain cultural attitudes of respect and reverence for fellow creatures. Can anything worthwhile now come from this leopard’s horrific sacrifice? Children who witness adults brutalising an animal in this way must become both traumatised and hardened... can the young people in this village be reached out to by people they respect, and learn from this tragedy?”
My daughter Tara Sahgal, who edits Cub Magazine writes with more anger: “Maybe we are getting our just deserts with global warming. Stewing in our own sin sounds fair. But it is plain unfair that we have to take these exquisite creatures and ecosystems with us.”
I would urge Sanctuary readers to type in ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ into Google search. At least some of the causative reasons for our descent might be found there. To read more responses to this terrible, terrible incident, which hundreds of people around the world have condemned, visit this url if you are a Facebook user – http://on.fb.me/nationalshame
By Bittu Sahgal