A Spot Of Bother!
This exquisite leopard was photographed on a dark night by young Zeeshan Mirza in one of the many shrinking pockets of wilderness that still survive between the urban sprawl that has begun to take a toll on Mumbai’s Aarey Milk Colony and the magical Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
More secretive and adaptable than the tiger, the leopard manages to live in relative proximity to humans across India, making quick forays into human-dominated habitats under the cloak of darkness. Like a kabaddi player the leopard hopes to scramble back to safety – a dense forest or any secluded nook – after grabbing a dog, cat, goat or any other small, domestic animal it can find.
And here lies the rub. With every passing day, dams, mines, roads, urban complexes and expanding agriculture conspire to steal quiet nooks from wild animals. This forces hapless carnivores into closer proximity to us and, like a tragedy foretold, conflicts ensue – often with the tragic loss of children’s lives, which leads people to retaliate. This is why almost all wild animals are in decline in India. In the case of leopards, the lethal flirtation with humans is causing them to sink even faster than tigers.
Anyone who claims they can eliminate human-animal conflict is out of touch with reality. But understanding animal behaviour and modifying our own behaviour can, and will, reduce the incidence of conflict. For this, however, we must accept that the onus of peace is upon us. And, since we know that good fences make good neighbours, perhaps the time has come for us to accept the inevitability of setting up social fences and exclusion zones that induce humans to stay their distance from leopards, tigers and other megafauna to the extent possible.
Yes, it’s more than a spot of bother for those who are on the frontlines of wildlife conservation and policy making, but tackling the human-animal problem head on would be infinitely more advantageous than allowing it to spin wildly out of control.
Bittu Sahgal, Editor, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXII No. 3, June 2012