The districts of western UP are synonymous with sugarcane plantations and the adaptable big cats have utilised these tall crops as habitat where they live and breed. Combined with the increasing pressure on forest habitat in Uttar Pradesh, the once rich leopard population in the state is under constant threat.
The sugarcane plantations in the state are ideal habitat for leopards as they provide cover that allows them to remain unseen. Studies have shown that in many cases farmers and leopards use the same path at approximately the same time without the leopard being detected.
There has however been a gloomy increase in the number of incidents in human-leopard conflict in the state, many of them leading to the leopard being killed. In 2011, a leopard that was found in the sugarcane fields in Bahadurpur area of Ghaziabad and was eventually killed by them before environmentalists could intervene.
As per a report by the Union ministry of environment report In Uttar Pradesh, as many as 22 persons were killed in wild attacks in 2010-11. Meanwhile, the state’s green cover has been staggering for years, despite all the plantation efforts by forest department. The green cover, in the last five years has gone down from 9.26% to 9.01%. In UP, moderately dense forest (which has 40-70% canopy formation) has gone down from 4,563 sq km to 4,559 sq km.
As per experts, this combined with the massive increase in population in the state has directly led to such cases of conflict. As per guidelines released by MoEFF in 2011 related to dealing with leopard-human conflict – the big cats are not usually inclined to attack people, on the contrary, they avoid people.
In a study, wildlife biologist Vidya Athreya and social scientist Sunetro Ghosal found that in the absence of their usual prey, such leopards that exist on the fringes of rural India – especially in sugarcane plantations – survive on a diet of feral dogs, pigs and livestock. The few wild animals they feed on are mongoose, civet cats and rodents.
While a number of farmers in the area feel proud that the leopard lives alongside them, others aren’t so tolerant. “We are forced live alongside these government-owned predators. They thrive in our farms and harm our livestock, yet we can’t attack and kill them,” said Umar Yadav, a farmer in Bahadurpur. “But some do, in the most horrific mob attacks imaginable”
Department officials require crisis and people management training in order to perform their jobs better. Compensation payments should be made less tedious and bureaucratic; it should be linked to effective protection, so that those who take better care of their livestock are rewarded, and support provided to those who lack the resources to adequately protect their animals,” said an environmentalist.