Scores of monkeys, a pond and a charred branch with claw marks tell the story of untrammelled urbanisation that led to a leopard being electrocuted in the village of Mandawar, almost at the doorstep of millennium city Gurgaon. It’s been two weeks since a two-year-old leopard was killed after getting caught in a high tension wire in the congested village and the signs of its conflict are all there. The village pond is bustling with about 60 monkeys huddled around the water, ready to dive in to quench their thirst in the blazing summer afternoon.
At the edge of the pond lies a charred branch that broke off a tree when the leopard got electrocuted. The other half of the blackened branch, still on the tree, and the feline’s claw marks on the trunk are evidence of the unfortunate incident on June 20.
Located at the edge of the ecologically fragile Aravallis and just 35 km from Gurgaon, which with its high rise office buildings and apartment complexes epitomises urbanisation, Mandawar has had several leopard encounters.
Villagers said at least 10-12 leopards have wandered into their village from the bordering forest area. According to Dhansingh Numberdar, the sarpanch of Mandawar village, the leopard that got electrocuted had most likely strayed into the area looking for food and water.
“It is likely the leopard climbed up the tree chasing a monkey and got caught in the high tension live wire,” he said.
Just three years ago, a leopard was beaten to death by panic-stricken villagers in Mandawar. “The villagers hit the leopard because they did not know any other way to deal with a wild animal,” he said.
Mandawar is not alone. Leopards from the Aravallis have strayed into spaces inhabited by humans several times earlier. Last year, nearly 35 leopards were spotted in Gurgaon and its nearby areas, testimony to the worsening man-animal conflict and the extent of illegal mining and construction in the area.
In January this year, a 10-month-old female leopard died after being hit by a heavy vehicle on the Gurgaon-Faridabad road. As more and more wild animals wander into human habitations from the Aravallis, wildlife conservationists say “dignified coexistence” of man and beast is the way forward.
More than 32,000 animals, including cattle, elephants, lions and leopards, have been killed on railway tracks in the past three years, according to data provided by the railways. This does not include elephants -- 60 were killed in the last three years and five this year till June 20.
And earlier this week, on July 2, a leopard hiding in Dehradun’s Shrinagar Medical College building for two days was shot dead after it attacked a group of forest department personnel struggling to capture it.
Wildlife activist Ajay Dubey blames rampant urbanisation by humans who are encroaching into forest areas, the wild animals natural habitat. “Our development ventures are adversely affecting the green cover thereby disturbing the natural ecological balance,” Dubey said.
“Lack of grass cover results in decreasing number of herbivores, which means a decrease in the prey base of these wild animals,” he added. According to data by Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), at least 500 leopards were either killed or died of other reasons in 2018.
“Just because they (animals) cannot speak does not mean they don’t have rights. It is because of our urbanisation that they are losing on their natural habitats. We are the ones encroaching,” Dubey said.
Reducing forest cover in the Aravallis and increased development projects have left animals with no space and they overlap with humans competing for land as a resource, said wildlife conservationist Latika Nath.
“The burgeoning human population has put pressure on wild habitat. This leads to conflict and unfortunately death on both sides. With training in dealing with these situations we can try and reduce mortality but in most cases fear leads to extreme reactions,” she told PTI on WhatsApp from Chile where she is tracking pumas. Nath said the primary step towards coexistence is sensitisation.
“People need to learn to make way for the animal. Remove children from the vicinity. Ensure pets are indoors. Wild animals must be encouraged to pass through and not harassed or tormented. People must not mob them to get photographs. No stone throwing, no hitting with sticks,” she said.
The conservationist also urged NGOs and government officials to work closely with local communities that live on the edge of wilderness areas to explain how to react when dealing with wildlife.
“Different animals need to be dealt with in different ways,” she said, adding that awareness campaigns on social media could help spread the word. Peaceful coexistence could be the way forward in these troubled times, agreed Numberdar.
In 2016, after a leopard was beaten to death in his village, Numberdar spoke to local wildlife officials and gave the 1700 people in his jurisdiction basic instructions on how to react when they see a wild animal.
The villagers admitted they now knew better, and have achieved a certain degree of coexistence with the leopards that inhabit the forest and keep coming to village for food and water.
“We keep seeing leopards in and around the area. Whoever sees the animal lets sarpanch ji know and then he informs the forest officials,” said 24-year-old Ravi Kumar. In March this year, the Supreme Court sharply rebuked the Haryana government for amending a law to allow construction in the Aravallis.