The three rescue centres in the state are accommodating more leopards than their intake capacity
Leopards are jostling for space at rescue centres in Uttarakhand, suggest official figures.
The state has three rescue centres, one each at Haridwar, Almora and Ranibagh in Nainital. At present, the Almora centre has eight leopards against its capacity to accommodate seven; the Haridwar centre has seven leopards against its capacity to keep six, while Ranibagh has three big cats, the maximum it can hold.
The leopards kept at the rescue centres have been brought from various places in the state. Most of them are man-eaters and, therefore, cannot be released into the wild, said officials of the Dehradun based Wildlife Institute of India.
On the other hand, keeping them safe in the overcrowded rescue centres is also a challenge for the officials. “It’s difficult to house more leopards than the permissible limit. We try to keep them alternately like if one is inside a cage, other is left in an enclosure. We cannot keep two big cats together, as they can kill each other,” HK Singh, divisional forest officer, Haridwar, told HT.
Apart from the three rescue centres, leopards are also kept at Pt Govind Ballabh Pant high-altitude zoo in Nainital, but that too has 11 leopards against its capacity to keep only six. “Now we cannot adjust more leopards. We face a great challenge in managing 11 of them,” said Dharam Singh Meena, divisional forest officer, Nainital, and the zoo director.
Though the forest officials are facing challenges due to the overcrowded rescue centres, they are hopeful the situation would improve in coming years. “A new rescue centre is planned at Haldwani zoo, which will keep eight big cats — four tigers and four leopards. Malsi zoo in Dehradun has also been doubled up as a rescue centre,” said Digvijay Singh Khati, the chief wildlife warden.
However, the wildlife experts are skeptical about the improvement in situation. Vidya Athreya, a Maharashtra-based wildlife activist, said the rescue centres will continue to be flooded with the big cats unless concerned agencies work in sync. “More centres to house man-eaters are not the solution. There has to be a plan to minimise conflict and create a better environment for the species,” she said.
Uttarakhand is one of the states that has seen spurt in the cases related to human-leopard conflicts in the last few years. The reason for this can be attributed to the increasing number of big cats in the state. According to the last survey, conducted in 2008, there were 2,335 leopards in the jungles of Uttarakhand. In the last nine years, their number has multiplied.
As a result of the shrinking space for them, the leopards often venture out in human habitations and kill people. Since 2000, when Uttarakhand was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, 610 people have been killed in leopard attacks and more than 3,100 injured. Nearly 150 leopards were declared man-eaters and 35 rescued during the same period.