Kashmir: Avoidable loss of a leopard (most likely not a snow leopard)

 Editorial Posted On Thursday, January 28, 2010Kashmir is notorious for clean felling of jungles and all, from ministers down to forest rangers, are into this business. Militant activities over a period of two decades have also adversely impacted the forests- Proloy Bagchi
A national daily reported the other day that a leopard was shot dead in a village close to Pulwama, a town in western Kashmir.
It seems it strayed into the village and injured a female child and several other persons. The villagers were able to confine it into a cowshed and then they called for the wildlife officials. Since the latter couldn’t reach the village before sundown, afraid of further injuries to people the villagers persuaded the resident police officials to kill the big cat. The wildlife officials arrived from Srinagar much later having been held up in a series of traffic snarls.
A leopard was thus needlessly lost.
Pulwama is a pretty little town in Kashmir located 31 kms south of Srinagar. Situated in the shadows of mighty Peer Panjal ranges, it is surrounded by verdant pine forests and is known for its saffron and milk production. The fact that a leopard had strayed into a nearby village and that it had to be killed due to inability of the wildlife officials of Srinagar to reach the place in good time due to traffic jams raises at least three questions.
The report in the newspaper did not indicate whether it was a snow leopard or an ordinary tropical leopard found in the jungles in India. One wonders whether it was a snow leopard, which is a dwindling species and is under great threat. Though their habitat is at elevations of more than 9000 ft, they could climb down to around 5000 ft which is the elevation of Pulwama if they happen to be chasing a prey. That, however, seems to be highly unlikely, as snow leopards prefer rugged terrains, rocky outcrops and ravines and not a lush valley like Kashmir.
The leopard that was shot down was most probably of ordinary kind generally found all over India in lower elevations. Unless it was chasing a prey, its foray into a village would be indicative of its degrading habitat. Human encroachments in its domain and cutting down of the jungles may have diminished its prey-base making it to stray into a human settlement looking for food. Kashmir is notorious for clean felling of jungles and all, from ministers down to forest rangers, are into this business. Militant activities over a period of two decades have also adversely impacted the forests. Be that as it may, a leopard straying into a human settlement is a highly unusual incident and needs to be taken serious note of. It may be indicative of disappearing forests along with their wildlife and an oncoming water scarcity – already evident – in the Valley.
The inability of the wildlife officials to reach the village on account of traffic jams raises the third question. The report says they were repeatedly held up at various stages of their journey because of jams. Apparently, vehicular traffic that was sparse a few years ago has risen manifold causing traffic jams even in winters. Besides, the jams on way to a place which is not known for hectic industrial or commercial activities would seem to be alarming. Earlier only the army convoys would put a squeeze on the traffic. Are the roads in Kashmir chock-a-block with vehicles choking all movement? It should be a matter for concern both for the State Government as well as the Centre. Being the hotbed of militancy free vehicular movement is essential.
Leopards in India, like other big cats, are a vanishing species. Almost every month there is a report or two of one being killed having strayed into a village or a town. Kashmir is a state with few leopards and even fewer snow leopards. And, one of the species seems to have been killed quite needlessly. Such avoidable killings adversely impacts on the state of wildlife in the country. Hopefully, the keepers of wildlife in Kashmir will look at all aspects of this sorry incident and initiate appropriate conservational measures.

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